The world may not be ready for the wave of pandemic-themed films heading our way.
Chances are few will capture the paranoia, and discomfort, that “Self-Isolated” nails from the opening moments. What the micro-indie lacks in sizzle it makes up for in ingenuity, pluck and a sense of the unknown.
Maggi Mayfield stars as Susan, a woman surrounded by medical equipment in her bedroom. She’s alone and clearly unwell, and some sequences suggest her condition is dire. Her stubborn nose bleed serves as a steady reminder of just that.
Oh, and there’s a global pandemic underway, note the signs warning, “Wear a mask …” or “do not enter.”
We piece other elements of her story together, slowly. Flashbacks, dream sequences and events we’re not sure can be trusted flood the screen.
Susan’s husband is often by her side, mostly in gauzy flashbacks capturing his goofy sense of romance. It’s when Susan leaves her home, and encounters some of the people trying to survive a pandemic far worse than what the world encountered in 2020, that her situation turns desperate.
Writer/director Chad Ridgely, who co-stars as Susan’s husband, David, isn’t interested in conventional narratives. He’s eager to explore how COVID-19 shaped our lives, the limits of marital bliss and how art can connect cultural dots we’re still trying to define.
The film’s tight budget can be seen via overused flashbacks and the modest cast. Yet those elements, rather than distract us, feed Ridgely’s vision.
Filmmakers struggled to keep telling stories during the pandemic, relying on testing, masks and related protocols along the way. It’s easy to see how “Self-Isolated” worked within these limitations, but that also enriches the story.
We feel Susan’s isolation, the sense there’s no one there to help her. And the threats lurking nearby are palpable.
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Ridgely’s David cracks lame jokes and plies his bride with gag gifts to lift her spirits. His lack of self-awareness is a strength, since other films might lionize David or make him a generic Alpha Male.
Doug Burch offers another layer of discomfort as a neighbor who won’t follow Susan’s subtle clues to mind his own business.
“Self-Isolated” wraps with more hope than expected, and that tone doesn’t fully gel with the story preceding it. Still, it’s hard to shake the unease built up gradually over the first hour, something other filmmakers will be pressed to tap as they process a pandemic that refuses to fade away.
HiT or Miss: Some may not be ready to re-live the fear and loathing sparked by the pandemic, but “Self-Isolated” leverages that discomfort for an original thriller.