Review: The Fable of Isabella

Written and directed by Sarah MacGregor, reclusive gothic writer Guy Renfield struggles to finish his first film script exploring the story of a notorious child witch. To throw salt in the wound the film production company send a dynamic young paranormal researcher Svajone to track Guy down and push him to the deadline. Starring: Jonathan Hansler, Kris Darrell, Felicia Bowen, Abel Tyler, Clara Castle and Gary McDonald.

The Fable of Isabella opens with old fashioned folk music and images of supernatural history, reminiscent of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, before diving into images of the picturesque Whitby invaded by strangers in black with its annual Goth weekend. It’s always a pleasure to see more filmmakers taking advantage of the all the visual delights that Yorkshire has to offer, rather than just its farms and fields. The style of direction in its opening has a strong aura of being watched, it doesn’t move as though it’s just part of the crowd, it moves as if it’s searching or following which leads appropriately into the found footage elements.

There are two main lines to this story, the group of amateur filmmakers that were following the path of a young witch and the writer, Guy, working on the screenplay about the strange happenings that took place during their search, as well as the journey of research assistant Svajone to travel through stormy weathers to reach Guy’s remote cabin. Each element is intertwined telling the story bit by bit and gradually revealing how the footage came to be found, initially it doesn’t blend well or feel as though they’re really telling the same tale, however after things get going the timing of each moment syncs up more satisfyingly and it becomes a smoother sailing.

Guy is a complete satire of screenwriters, he’s entirely pretentious with the type of British accent that Americans believe exists but 99% of the time, it really doesn’t, he has a hugely inflated ego and insists that his name be pronounced “gee”. It’s probably quite the compliment to Hanslers’ performance that he’s entirely irritating, you can’t really root for his screenplay to succeed because he’s exactly the sort of person that has become completely irrelevant in today’s world of cinema and television. Then you have Hirsch, who doesn’t seem the most professional of producers and is more interested in spicing up her story than making a factual documentary, but sadly there’s not much to learn about her or her crew, it would have been interesting to have their characters rounded out a little with some background information.

As the story moves forward there are a few issues with its shot choices and editing, it can frequently feel choppy with the back and forth between stories and when dealing with Svajone, it gets uncomfortably close, to the point where quick edits to her make you feel like she’s almost so close she’s about to headbutt you. It also uses effects to push the ‘found’ quality to the footage which is unnecessary, you could keep things simpler in that respect, quick, sharp cuts could have had a similar effect without being too overt. Similarly the choice to add a heavy amount of slow motion is somewhat over the top and extends moments that, for the most part, don’t need it. However, the most problematic aspect is that it lacks a central focus, with the story having so much back and forth it needed that strong focus to pull it all together but there isn’t a particular character, goal or destination to provide that.

The Fable of Isabella uses familiar elements from films with its found footage and supernatural story, it puts together the classic hunt to find out what really happened when someone goes missing but it doesn’t add a lot of originality. There are a few choices in editing and writing which make it rough around the edges, and it takes a little time to get up and running but the story its trying to tell is very clear. It began with a good idea and has some decent elements but it could have leant more heavily into the supernatural side of things. It needs some fine tuning and a stronger edge to separate it from the crowd.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Please note: This review was written based on an earlier cut of the film and therefore may not reflect the changes made to the finished feature

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