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Isolation [Grant Anthony Barker, USA, 2020]

Isolation is a highly expressionistic look at the surreal boredom of long-term isolation, made during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. The plot, insofar as it has one, concerns a day in the life of someone confined to their house. The seconds are meted out in ticks from a metronome, bringing the experience of time to the fore and dwelling in the gradual breakdown of chronology that extended isolation brings.

Isolation describes itself as “experimental”, and the influence of the avant-garde is plain to see from the jump. In the style of Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s Meshes of the Afternoon [USA, 1943], Isolation takes the mundane location of the house and renders it surreal and unrecognisable. The discomforting cinematography and drab, black-and-white colour scheme dominate the film, expressing its ideas visually rather than through its narrative.

The film’s sound design is truly remarkable, with distorted, uncomfortable stabs of noise punctuating the piece. Lynchian white noise, heavily manipulated vocals, and near-constant ticking all contribute to a deeply uncomfortable effect, preventing the film from ever feeling safe. Combined with the surreal visuals, the sound compounds the nightmarish atmosphere, surrounding us on all sides with a kind of terror, made all the more visceral by the ostensible normality of the film’s setting and plot.

As the chaos of the piece grows, time begins to blur and the distinct categories of morning, afternoon, and evening overlap and replace one another. The loss of the significance attributed to time induces a kind of panic, exacerbated by the erratic visuals and ugly sounds. Occasionally violent visuals and the feverish scribbling of the words “isolation”, “depression”, and “alone”, demonstrates that Isolation’s entropy is internal, a reflection of the protagonist’s mental state.

Isolation feels raw and reactionary, an intense and visceral cry from the darkness of the past year’s imposed lockdown. While it does not provide a particularly new outlook on isolation, it actualises the mental distress of extended alienation, representing it in brutal and uncomfortable imagery. Director, Grant Anthony Barker, is responsible for all aspects of its production, writing, directing and starring in the piece. As such, it is a clearly personal piece, expressing Barker’s feelings as wholly as possible given the medium. The clarity of Barker’s vision, as well as the genuinely terrifying sound design and cinematography in the piece, make it tremendously effective as a work of self-expression. The intense introspection and mental anguish of locking down have here yielded an ugly, disfigured fruit, but one which demands you do not look away.


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