This Holiday’s Movies: “Isolation”

September 4, 2007

Isolation is a movie about a band of people on a small, er, isolated farm being menaced by killer, mutant cows. Okay, let me pause here for a second.


Yeah, I didn’t think I’d get through that paragraph with a straight face. But, yes, that’s indeed what the movie’s about. Now this little offering from the UK shouldn’t be confused with the horror/comedy Black Sheep, about killer sheep in New Zealand. Nope, this movie plays things completely straight. “Mutant, killer cows,” it urges, “it could happen!” The Kiwis, it seems, have a better sense of humor and less free-floating anxiety about their livestock than their brethren in the UK.

Okay, so our movie begins on the aforementioned farm in…ah….let’s say Ireland. What the hell. The local vet, Orla, is checking on the gestation of a calf by sticking her (thankfully-sheathed) arm up a cows vagina. Yep, first scene. Babe this is not. Both Orla and Dan, the owner of the farm, have a great deal of interest in calf. It’s established pretty quickly that Dan has been allowing a local dairy magnate to inject his cows with hormones to make them more fertile. Orla is his resident veterinarian. Far from the usual “evil industrialist” clichés, this movie sets up all three as having a stake in these experiments. Good on them.

The farm is soon joined by Sean and Mary, a young couple on the run from her brothers. Why? The film’s not real clear on this point. The filmmaker obviously thought that once you have impending mutant killer cows, you don’t need to connect all of the dots. Sean’s one of those pasty, skinny 20-something types popular in cinema these days. Mary is quiet with enormous, sad, cow-like eyes. Anyone want to take odds on who’s killer mutant cow bait?

Anyway, one dark and stormy night the pregnant cow that Orla was molesting gives birth. Sean helps John birth the calf and proves that slacker 20-somethings don’t make the best farmhands. The calf is a difficult birth and isn’t breathing when it comes out. John responds by SWINGING THE CALF AROUND OVER HIS HEAD!!! Farm people: is this actually how farmers resuscitate cattle? Can’t they pound on their little cow chests or give them mouth-to-mouth?

The calf soon dies and during the autopsy, Orla finds that the calf was deformed and couldn’t have lived long, but seems to be an incubator for embryonic mutant calves. Evil-looking, warrior calves (not making this up) with their skeletons on the outside of their bodies and redundant organs and tiny, dagger-like teeth (not making this up). Orla assumes that these mutations are stillborn. Ha! No such luck. The mutant embryonic killer calves escape into the soggy farmland.

It’s also discovered that the calves, er, infect their victims with an organism that corrupts native cells to create more mutant calves. This makes any victim a potential human incubator for Were-cows!!! (not making this up). From here the little mutant cowlets begin picking of the humans one-by-one. Well, actually, the humans do a fair job of this themselves, since by this point nearly everyone has been exposed to the Killer Mutant Cow Pathogen The scientist who developed the hormone treatment which caused this phenomena (probably should have done a little more testing with mice, doc) decides the best thing to do is quarantine the farm and destroy anything or one that been exposed (Okay, Chris Gorak? This is a circumstance when you’d want to quarantine). So our heroes find themselves battling not just the killer mutant cows and the quarantine-happy scientist. The film climaxes with Mary being hunted by the alpha Mutant Killer Cow (not making this up).

As I mentioned earlier, the writer/director (because you know a movie about killer mutant cows has to be a singular vision) Billy O’Brien plays all of this completely straight and plays up the grim setting and mood of despair (the mutant cows are loose—we’re all doomed), proving that it’s not the line it’s the delivery. He actually comes close to capturing a Crononbergian sense of disgust and terror at biology—you know, when you forget that this a movie about killer mutant cows.

Anyway, I must taken issue with the premise of this movie. As a native of the great state of Wisconsin, no one knows better than I that the cow is a good and noble animal. It is a friend to man and suggesting otherwise is libel of the worst sort. Of course there was that Simpsons episode in which Lisa watches an education wherein Troy McClure warns his young charges, “If a cow ever got the chance he’d eat you and everyone you love!” But The Simpsons is a harmless cartoon. I fear people will see Isolation and work themselves into an anti-cow hysteria akin to the one against sharks that followed the release of Jaws. It would be a shame if these decent, majestic creatures were senselessly hunted on the basis of a dumb horror movie. So I implore you, good reader, respect the cow.

PERSONAL NOTE: My first encounter with these noble beasts was indeed a hair-raising one. While on a family trip to a historical Wisconsin farm, I ventured out to a small pen where a big Holstein was contentedly chewing her cud. When I approached, she stuck her head through a couple loose slats to say hello. Now, to a four year-old kid, a cow’s head is approximately the same size as a Sherman tank. I ran to my father screaming, “Dad! It’s gonna eat me! It’s gonna eat me!” My father, who grew up on a farm, picked me up and showed me that the cow just wanted to be scratched between the ears. I scratched the cow and she lowed happily. They are indeed intelligent, unknowable creatures…


  1. Note to self: Netflix this movie ASAP.

    On a side note, yes, the Brits, what with the whole BSE crisis and the slaughtering of millions of cows after the foot in mouth outbreaks, must indeed have subconscious feelings of guilt and fear when it comes to their livestock.

    The Kiwis, who live in ideal terrain for raising all of their livestock free-range and organically, have nothing to fear, it seems.

  2. Doubtless this is because generations of inbreeding have left the UK cows sickly…not unlike the royal family.

  3. “John responds by SWINGING THE CALF AROUND OVER HIS HEAD!!! Farm people: is this actually how farmers resuscitate cattle? Can’t they pound on their little cow chests or give them mouth-to-mouth?”

    This line *killed* me. I laughed all the way out to the water fountain and back. I must book mark you.

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