Part of Dead by Dawn 2019
Splendid Isolation opens Sunday’s programme at the Dead by Dawn horror festival. In the case of this collection, as with most horror, “isolation” does not necessarily mean “alone”, but instead means to be stranded with something malevolent. Therein we have the central theme of Splendid Isolation – a series of protagonists stuck with something menacing.
Regrettably, Splendid Isolation doesn’t do particularly well with this reliable premise. This is not a problem of planning or concept but rather with the constituent parts. The films that comprise Splendid Isolation just don’t work.
The reel opens strongly with Jameson, an American flick about a survivalist defending his home from attackers. While it’s nothing that audiences of The Walking Dead have not seen before, it is competently assembled and has a decent plot twist. However, it is still of overall middling effectiveness owing to its stock characters and dialogue.
Next is Supine, a Czech short, the longest in the series at twenty-five minutes, about a hitchhiker who meets up with a taxidermist. This predictable, mawkish, and lazily written slog of a short manages to be far too long and fills its run time with far too little. Neither of its characters are likeable and would feel more at home making flirty eyes at one another in some odious romantic comedy. Supine is boring and the less said about the bag of clichés it presents its audience with where dialogue is expected the better.
Flotando, from Spain, is next up. A flat, featureless, and tiresome little insubstantial bubble of a thing and forgotten just after its telegraphed pop. Being stalked in space shouldn’t be this dull!
Penultimate in the Splendid Isolation is The Visitor – a Twilight Zone riff about a woman who is visited by a concentration camp prisoner in the middle of the night. It is cleverly written and contains some effective technical aspects and compact character development. It also has an interesting point to make about the development of prejudice over time and is the highlight of the collection. Moreover, The Visitor is shocking, provocative, and is effective in what it sets out to achieve.
Finally, Splendid Isolation programme heads back to Australia for Round Trip, the story of a police officer and his detainee who get lost in the outback and have to contend not only with one another and the harsh conditions, but also with the time-jumps that impact their predicament. While it does work somewhat as a palate-cleansing comedy, it’s characters are simplistic caricatures and the use of time isn’t as clever as it seems to think.
Splendid Isolation is a collection with high ideas that doesn’t succeed in achieving them. Those films that do work feel out of place when compared to the detritus they are surrounded by – and that detritus is not worth considering. For most of its run-time, it aims for tension and terror but, ultimately, is more likely to inspire boredom and bafflement.