‘Isolation’ Review: Dispatches From a Different Pandemic

Given that horror films tend to reflect our anxieties back at us, manifesting them into solid, solvable problems like zombie hordes or possessed houses, it makes sense that movie lovers have turned to the genre for comfort during the coronavirus pandemic. Filmmakers have likewise mined this moment for terrifying inspiration. Last summer Shudder released “Host,” a collaborative horror film made entirely over Zoom. Now “Isolation,” a collection of nine short horror films set all over the globe, offers stories of survival created under the limitations of quarantine. Though there are a few standout creations, the anthology is mostly muddled, privileging a heightened version of 2020 over a reality that was plenty scary on its own.

In “Isolation,” each short is set in a specific city in a world upended by a mutating virus. Economies are crashing and food supply chains have halted, resulting in mass civil unrest. “Pacific Northwest,” directed by Bobby Roe, follows two children as they outrun murderous escaped convicts who have been inexplicably freed from a nearby facility. This hovering between real-world horror and tacked-on scares results in more confusion than it does poetry.

For instance “The Dread,” directed by Dennie Gordon, artfully depicts a woman’s anxiety as her husband slowly dies in their bed — but the film ends with gunshots and explosions as unknown vigilantes ransack the Hollywood Hills. Two films about conspiracy theorists, “5G” and “It’s Inside,” only compound confusion. Without consistent information about this slightly different world, it’s impossible to tell if these characters are totally unhinged or if their paranoia is justified.

The gimmick of this collection is its main draw. Seeing what the filmmakers have pulled off at the height of quarantine, with only at-hand resources at their disposal, is fascinating. Drone footage abounds; family members and friends play starring roles. Some films are meditative, while others go full-on slasher. But the bizarre 2020 that “Isolation” presents — exactly like ours, except when it’s not — is ultimately a hobbling distraction.

Isolation
Not rated. In English and German, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.