As I sit here, thinking about Victorian supernatural mystery, The Isle by Tori and Matthew Butler Hart, I confess I’m an oafish American. I once received a ten-minute lecture from a close friend for calling Jane Austin’s Emma, a Victorian rip-off of Clueless. My attempt at a snarky joke. Oh, and don’t ask me who Merchant Ivory is! All this to say, I now give you my unsophisticated review of The Isle.
Three sailors lost at sea in a small boat having just survived the mysterious sinking of their merchant ship far from their home port in Victorian Scotland. Captain Oliver Gosling (Alex Hassell) and crewmen Cailean Ferris (Fisayo Akinade) and Jim Bickley (Graham Butler) are the only members of the crew left. As the surrounding mist clears, Cailean sees a small isle off in the distance.
Arriving on the isle, our heroes quickly secure the boat and look for a way to start a fire, both for warmth and to signal to any other survivors. They soon find there are others on the isle when they are greeted by Fingal MacLeod (Dickon Tyrrell). Fingal brings the crew back to his small home for warmth and a bite to eat.
“Three sailors lost at sea…having just survived the mysterious sinking of their merchant ship…”
Not able to properly house his guests for the night, Fingal takes the crew to the home of Douglas Innis (Conleth Hill) and his daughter, Lanthe (Tori Butler Hart). Douglas is suspicious of his guests and warns them to stay inside until morning. Lanthe, on the other hand, tries encourage the crew to stay on the isle and warns of the dangers in leaving.
When night falls, Gosling, Ferris, and Bickley must solve the mystery of the isle and figure out a way to go home. While attempting to sleep the crew begins to hear strange whispers, see and not see mysterious figures, and meet a crazed woman, Korrigan (Alix Wilton Regan).
The Isle is a supernatural thriller, as opposed to a horror film. Ghostly things happen on the isle, and the ship’s crew serve as our guide to figure it out. The isle hosts are tightlipped and hiding a secret, and everything escalates to a conclusion. Any gore or jump scares are tame and kept to a minimum.
“…it’s a nice film that could have used a lot more edge.”
The film’s writers Tori and Matthew Hart tell a tale based loosely on Scottish ghostly folklore with inspiration from Greek sirens. The mystery of the film is revealed to us by Gosling ultimately saying to his hosts “Tell me what’s going on.” As opposed to just dropping clues and letting it audience figure it out. This is the only significant weakness of the film. If you’re going to tell audiences what the mystery is, it turns us into passive viewers watching events unfold as opposed to active viewers working out the mystery.
The film is beautifully shot…as beautiful as a foggy isle gets. The costumes and sets feel real for the period and the environment, which is remarkable for low-budget filmmakers to pull off. The acting is excellent all around. The film’s suspense comes mostly from ghostly appearances acting as little bits of spice in a slow-paced Victorian drama. The final reveal ties everything nicely together. It’s a nice film that could have used a lot more edge.
The Isle (2018) Directed by Matthew Butler Hart. Written by Tori and Matthew Butler Hart. Starring Conleth Hill, Alex Hassell, Tori Butler Hart, Fisayo Akinade, and Graham Butler. The Isle played as part of the 2018 Irvine International Film Festival.
3.5 out of 5 stars