If you’re a fan of horror at all, then you are well familiar with the crazy makeshift (or actual) family that lives in the middle of nowhere trope. Whether it be in the Texas prairies (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the Mojave desert (The Hills Have Eyes) in an unnamed location (House of 1,000 Corpses AND The Devil’s Rejects), or the Georgia woods (Deliverance); we have encountered this plot device in seemingly countless iterations. Still, no matter how many angles have been used, it’s good to know that there are more that still entertain us.
The Edge of Isolation combines the crazy-family-that-lives-in-the-middle-of-nowhere trope and the Don’t-go-into-the-woods trope espoused by many well-loved horror films such as Evil Dead, The Ritual, Cabin Fever, etc. Lance (Michael Marcel) and his wife, Kendra (Marem Hassler) are set to go on a weekend camping trip for Lance’s 30th birthday. Before the trip, Lance experiences strange dreams about being stuck in caves and sharing a cannibalistic meal with his wife. As viewers, we know this does not bode well for our protagonists, but these damn movie people never seem to know what they’re doing is a bad idea!
“…experiences strange dreams about being stuck in caves and sharing a cannibalistic meal…”
Lance is having a little bit of an existential crisis, as it is his 30th birthday and all. I definitely experienced one myself, but hearing him say he was “old” was hilarious to me now as a 35-year-old (when I know I said the same thing as I turned the big 3-0). Kendra tries to snap him out of it. She succeeds when she tells him to find a place on the map for them to camp where she can swim naked without anyone seeing them. Another thing that resonates with me about Lance as a character is that he is adopted and is having thoughts about meeting his birth mother. This revelation might have had me more invested in the film than other people, due to these similarities, but I digress.
Naturally, once Lance and Kendra get far enough out into the woods, they hit a tree with their Jeep, but wasn’t there someone running across the road? We’re not sure because we are taken to a house in the middle of the forest where Lance and Kendra both wake up from their respective concussions. They have been “rescued” by the Polifer family, a happy bunch of Luddite libertarians that live off the land and shun modern society and technology. The “mother” Mary Polifer (Judi Barton) laughs at the notion that they have a bathroom saying “we have a river.” The “father,” Ivan (Monte Markham, who was amazing in Ted Geoghan’s We Are Still Here as well) hunts for all his meals and believes in traditional family values…or so we think.
“…successful at exploring its subject matter without becoming to cheesy or hackneyed.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that something goes off the rails in a major way eventually, but I won’t divulge what that is exactly here. The Edge Of Isolation somehow imbues the somewhat tired tropes it uses as a foundation with a lot of intelligent incite about family dynamics, toxic masculinity, gun control, Stockholm Syndrome and more. Also, as a low-budget film, writer/director Jeff Houkal really took advantage of the locations to tell a great story. There is one brief bad CGI moment, and the kills are definitely of a 70’s B-movie aesthetic, but they work. Houkal is obviously a fan of the genre, and if I haven’t already said it, I’ll say it now: Horror fans make the best horror movies!
Insofar as low-budget horror goes, The Edge of Isolation is successful at exploring its subject matter without becoming to cheesy or hackneyed. The acting and writing are good, as well as the score and cinematography. I think Houkal, who is also a prolific actor, has a good career ahead of him as a filmmaker. Or even if this is his “Magnum Opus,” it’s not a bad one to have as one’s legacy.
The Edge of Isolation (2018) Written and Directed by Jeff Houkal. Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters, Monte Markham, Judi Barton, Jeff Houkal, Diana Elizabeth-Jordan, David Castro
7 out of 10 stars