ISABELLE ** Canada / USA 2018 Dir: Robert Heydon. 80 mins
We’ve had ANNABELLE (twice) and JESSABELLE, so it figures that ISABELLE would show up at some point. Here, THE O.C.’s eternally youthful Adam Brody and heavily pregnant music teacher wife Amanda Crew move house to raise a family – but everything goes horribly wrong, with the baby still born and Crew herself dying for a minute on the operating table. A sequence of spooky events follows, linked to odd-acting neighbour Sheila McCarthy and the mute daughter with spina bifida who constantly watches them from her bedroom window.
While the recent Canadian STILL / BORN was a subtle, effectively chilling treatment of similar themes – with an identical sub-plot suggesting the heroine is simply unbalanced by grief – this gets sillier as it goes along, with too many scenes of the central, red-eyed figure of fear lurching into the frame like a J-horror throwback. Brody is appealing, and Crew tries hard to bring depth and empathy to an underwritten character, but it relies heavily on jump scares, hackneyed evil-baby nightmares and shocks borrowed from better movies (THE CHANGELING can probably claim royalties for its ambulatory wheelchair). Its (literal) demonization of a disabled character is in poor taste, and the exposition is executed in a heavy-handed fashion, with two different characters Googling the Satanic abuse backstory of the neighbours. Wrapping up with about four different endings can’t disguise the fact that none of them are particularly good. Someone, somewhere presumably has CHRISTABELLE in production…
Review by Steven West