Isolation

Author: Chris Billett and Stephen Kay
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 3

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A young doctor struggles to understand how she ended up in a hospital isolation room, suffering from an unknown disease.

Synopsis:

AMY MOORE (20s) wakes up in a nondescript hospital isolation room, surrounded by curtains. She’s hooked up to machines and looks like hell. She doesn’t know she got there. She presses the call button, but nobody answers. Amy tries to get up, but she’s quickly overcome with dizziness and nausea. She accidentally yanks out her IV as she vomits and collapses. Some time later, an orderly (JAKE) arrives to fix her IV and clean up the mess. Amy asks questions that go unanswered. All Jake will tell her is that she’s been here for two days and slept for most of that time. He goes to get the doctor. Later, DR. SLOAN arrives. Sloan responds to Amy’s questions with a lot of vague non-answers. He’s surprised that she knows what pulmonary edema is — turns out, she’s a doctor. Sloan offhandedly mentions they’re in a makeshift decontamination facility, but he won’t explain why she (and apparently other) patients need to be decontaminated. Sloan promises to contact Amy’s father, also a doctor. He leaves, turning the lights off.

That night, Sloan arrives at home. He looks at a photo of himself with a woman, but spills hot tea on his hand and drops his mug, shattering it. Sloan yells to an unseen occupant of the house that he’s all right. The next day, Amy asks about her father. Sloan says he came by, but she was asleep. Sloan shows her the haphazardly constructed toilet. He tells her they don’t know what’s wrong with the patients — they’re trying to treat a disease without knowing what they’re fighting. Amy’s shocked, but Sloan’s bedside manner reassures her. Sloan sits at a table with Jake at a coffee shop filled with doctors. The nurse fails to respond to the call button again, so Amy forces herself out of bed and tries to get to the toilet. She crashes into it and her head bleeds. In a mysterious observation room, cameras monitor Amy’s every move. Sloan watches these monitors and hurries away.

Sloan and Jake patch Amy up and get her back into bed. Sloan tells her not to push herself too hard. Jake gives Amy a replacement gown. While Jake stands in a corner, away from her, Amy struggles to get into the new gown. She asks Jake to help her tie the back. Jake comments that he used to tie his sister’s dresses when he was a kid. Amy asks Jake to get her a radio, because the TV doesn’t work and she’s going stir crazy. Jake tells her he’ll see what he can do. Sloan comes upon Jake, looking through a storage room filled with medical supplies. Jake asks if he can give Amy a radio. Sloan tells him no. Back at home, Sloan browses through old medical journals, reading about alternative medicines and terrorist attacks. Some time later, Amy wakes with a start. She hears somebody tapping from the next room. Amy struggles to get up, pulls back the curtain, and finds a Plexiglas window, revealing a second isolation room. A hideous, ill man taps on the glass. Amy is horrified, but then she recognizes the man.

Flashing back to the previous week, young residents cross the hospital parking lot. Among them are Amy and PAUL — the man in the other isolation room. They flirt. Paul has a horrific hacking cough, but he refuses to get it checked out. In the present, Amy begs Paul to explain what’s going on. They can’t hear each other through the window, so Paul writes on the glass: “NOT SIC.” He hears a noise and can’t write anymore. Amy also hears a noise — someone’s entering her room. She hides near the toilet closet as Sloan enters, startling her. Sloan is impressed that she’s doing better. He mentions certain other patients are not responding to the treatment as well as she has. Jake brings Amy some food. Amy asks him to keep her company and, to get the conversation going, asks about his sister. Jake tells her his sister is dead. Amy’s shocked and sympathetic. Amy tries to grill Jake about Paul, but he refuses to answer and excuses himself quickly. Later, Sloan chastises Amy about prying information out of Jake.

That night at home, Sloan chops vegetables for a salad when he hears his TV turn on. Sloan goes into the living room and sees LIZZIE — the woman in the photos with him — acting sweet. He softens, but the image suddenly shifts to chaotic handheld footage of Lizzie being rushed into the emergency room. Sloan demands that the figure in the living room turn it off. He obliges — it’s Jake! Meanwhile, Amy puts two and two together on feeling worse every time she’s hooked up to the IV and the “not sic(k)” message from Paul. She pulls the tubs out of the IV and gives herself a few minutes to normalize. She gets up and goes to the other isolation room. Inside is Paul, lying unconscious on the floor. He looks dead. Sloan rushes in and performs emergency surgery on him — alone. Amy isn’t sure if this is murder or a desperate effort to save him. Terrified, Amy runs for the door of her own room. The door opens — to another door, an outer door that’s locked and impossible to get through. Not long after, the door opens. Amy immediately slams it shut — catching Jake’s hand in the door, smashing his fingers and causing him to drop something. When she hears Jake’s voice, Amy stops and apologizes. Jake wonders why she’d react so violently to Sloan. What he dropped was his own iPod, which he brought so she could have some music. Amy feels awful.

Amy demands to speak to someone in charge, but Jake refuses. Sloan arrives shortly thereafter, sending Jake and his iPod away. Sloan apologetically tells Amy that he lost Paul. After he leaves, Amy removes the tubes from her IV again. In the mysterious observation room, Jake watches Amy on the monitors while Sloan accosts him about the iPod. At the same time, Amy finally discovers the cameras — and she’s pissed. When Jake shows up the next morning, Amy attacks him, demanding to know where she is and what’s really going on. Jake easily overpowers Amy, accidentally knocking her out. Jake tells Sloan, who puts her back on the bed and ties restraints. When Amy wakes, she tries to break free. Sloan assures her it’s a precaution and urges her not to struggle. This phrase rings a bell with Amy. Once again, she flashes back to the hospital parking lot that night. She and Paul part ways, and Sloan attacks her, injecting her with something that paralyzes her. Across the parking lot, Paul comes back to Amy, so Sloan injects him, too.

In the present, Amy screams for help. The TV suddenly turns on, broadcasting the second isolation room. Using a baby monitor to communicate, Sloan wheels in the latest patient — LAWRENCE MOORE, Amy’s father. He’s paralyzed in the same way that Amy and Paul were. That night, Jake confesses to Sloan that he isn’t sure Lizzie would have wanted all this. Sloan reassures him that they’re doing the right thing and everything will be fine. The next morning, Moore is able to speak if he struggles. Sloan arrives to explain everything, with the help of a flashback: not long ago, Lizzie was rushed to the ER after a car accident. Amy and Paul tried to save her. Sloan demanded answers but was rebuffed. She died. Amy argued with her father that they didn’t do everything right — they could have saved her. Jake happened to catch all of this, including their private argument, on tape. In the present, Sloan shows Moore an article showing that he was absolved of all wrongdoing in Lizzie’s death.

Sloan tells Amy that stage one of his torture experiment — helplessness — is over. Now, they’re on to stage two. Sloan performs amateur surgery on Moore, claiming he wants to help him but really intending to kill him. Amy breaks free of her restraints just as Sloan cuts Moore’s throat. She gets out of the room and finds herself in a strange hallway of plastic tents and packing crates that once held used medical equipment. Eventually, she discovers she’s in a huge barn. Amy gets to the door and runs out. Outside is a vast avocado field. Amy runs; Sloan chases her. She manages to outrun him until she reaches a house — his house. Meanwhile, Jake has watched what transpired from the observation room. He works feverishly to delete the hours of video they’ve accumulated. Amy gets into the house and calls 911, but she doesn’t know where she is and Sloan is hot on her trail. She tears open kitchen drawers until she finds a huge knife.

Then, Amy gets distracted by the sound of her recently deceased father’s voice. She goes to the source of the sound, upstairs. She calls out, and Jake realizes Amy’s in the house. He deletes the last of the videos and goes after her — but Amy’s stunned by reliving the death of her father, so she can’t move. Jake runs right into the knife. She immediately gets into ER doctor mode, attempting to save him. Without any medical equipment, it’s impossible. Jake bleeds out. Sloan arrives just in time to see him die. Sloan injects her with the paralyzing agent once again, then drags her away from the scene.

In the observation room, Sloan discovers all his video is deleted. He’s enraged. He complains to a paralyzed Amy that she fell victim to the “bystander effect” — if people stand in a crowd doing nothing, then nothing becomes the right thing to do, but she should have stood up and done something. Amy is not in a position to argue one way or the other. The next morning, Sloan has completed some sort of outdoor gardening project, smoothing out an easy-to-ignore patch of dirt under the shade of a tree. Under that piece of earth, Amy has been buried in one of the medical equipment packing crates. Sloan has set up a tiny camera to record it. That morning, Sloan goes to a diner and orders a meal for Lizzie and a hot cocoa for Jake. The waitress greets him with a puzzled look, but Sloan doesn’t care. Amy dies in the crate.

Comments:

Isolation strives to be a heady thinkpiece tackling issues about medical malpractice, voyeurism, and the power of grief. In actuality, it’s a glorified snuff film. The big mystery is easily predictable, and it’s never clear who we’re supposed to root for, which makes the ending as confusing as it is unsatisfying. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act makes a valiant attempt at creating an eerie air of mystery, but it’s obvious early on that things are not what they seem. Despite the frequent attempts at misdirects, the script contains only one mild surprise (that Lizzie was Jake’s sister as well as Sloan’s wife). Because the story is confined to one basic setting and the hidden agenda is so easily guessed, the second act feels like a lot of repetitive wheel-spinning to pad a thin narrative to feature length. Suspicious Amy tries to figure things out, doesn’t get satisfactory answers, tries to get out, and fails.

The third act takes the script to a weird level that certainly makes the script unique, but not in an admirable way. In a failed effort to give some pathos to Sloan, the writers switch it up by painting Amy as a villain (albeit a reluctant one), and in a warped way, it seems as if they want Sloan to be the hero. Sloan’s wife is the one who was killed by evil doctors who didn’t pay a price for it, so it seems the doctors are just getting what they deserve through Sloan’s torment and eventual murder. This leads to an infuriating resolution in which Amy — the heroine for 7/8ths of the story — gets buried alive while Sloan gets to cheerfully pay homage to his departed family.

It doesn’t help matters that Sloan and Jake are easily the most well-developed characters in the script. The writers don’t make either of them sympathetic — which makes the ending all the more inexplicable — but they do allow the audience to understand and empathize with their misguided revenge scheme. However, spending so much time obscuring who they really are only serves to undermine the characters. Because of the story’s predictable nature, the audience will know from the moment they see them that these characters aren’t who they seem to be. It’s more frustrating than rewarding trying to figure out what to trust and what to assume is part of their false identities.

Meanwhile, very little is learned about Amy. She’s a recently anointed doctor with a faulty conscience and a high-powered surgeon father. Granted, it’s difficult to create a deep character when that character spends the bulk of the story in a weakened, almost immobile condition, but that just means both the character and the overall story suffer from debilitating problems. It’s easy enough to relate to Amy’s fear and confusion, but at the end of the day, she’s not the world’s most interesting character. Even if she were, a last-second 180° turn in what we thought we knew about the character simply ruins everything.

The script’s fatal flaws are too numerous to assume any amount of great filmmaking will redeem them. The writers are clearly interested in creating a lower-rent Saw, but this misses the mark.

Posted by D. B. Bates on January 28, 2010 11:06 PM