We’re thrown right into some harrowing events from the start, with Isabel (Mullen) being attacked on her way home by an almost rabid assailant (Travers). Isabel has had to struggle in her household for many years following the death of her mother. Her father tries his best, but she has siblings and has clearly had to take too much on at her own young adult age. She doesn’t mention anything about the attack to her father, but he begins to notice things are not quite right with her.
As Isabel gets drawn deeper into a disturbing cult of blood and violence, it not only becomes increasingly nightmarish but deeply tragic.
As Isabel becomes more reserved and isolated, some of her fellow students at her school have disappeared. The police (led by a gloriously acerbic Inspector played by Fleming) begin by interviewing Isabel’s former boyfriend, whose answers lead them to see Isabel as a person of interest.
The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann is packed with stunning cinematography (much praise to Alan Rogers) and often echoes the dreamlike work of the likes of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco (albeit in their more restrained, accessible moments). Although it’s incredibly brutal and bloody at times, it’s never portrayed in an exploitive, sordid fashion. We’re often plunged into a monochrome world, heightening the detachment of the lead character. One bloodletting montage is even set to a pleasant little pop song. Ironically, the juxtaposition actually works. Similarly, the score occasionally ventures into the oppressively experimental, adding to the overall brooding terror.
Isabel is clearly suffering and any horrendous (and trust us, they are appalling) acts she commits have an even deeper effect on her mental state. The subject is handled well and doesn’t resort to cliché or sensationalism.
Although only appearing in a smaller part, Darren Travers (one of the regular go-to actors Figgis uses) is as intense and mesmerising as ever, a bogeyman character that will haunt the nightmares of viewers for quite a while. Similarly, it’s rare to see such powerful acting from the young cast. Ellen Mullen is compulsive as Isabel, and even the youngest, Killian O’Farrell (Isabel’s brother Josh) impresses - particularly in once scene we can’t mention to keep it spoiler-free.
It may not be fast-paced enough for some, but it certainly rewards attentive viewers. It has a brooding atmosphere is punctuated with bursts of violence constantly keeps one on edge, right up to the lower-key climax.
THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JASON FIGGIS / STARRING: ELLEN MULLEN, NEILL FLEMING, MATTHEW TOMAN, DARREN TRAVERS / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 13TH (USA) TBC (UK)