Beauty isn’t the only thing that’s skin-deep in “Isabelle,” the latest film from Dutch vet helmer Ben Sombogaart. Adaptation of a novella by local scribe Tessa de Loo recounts an ugly Belgian woman’s revenge on good looks by starving a glamorous Dutch actress she keeps locked in her basement. Preposterous setup isn’t redeemed by any psychological insight, instead playing like a horror wannabe that includes far too much twaddle. Tepidly received locally by crix and auds alike, the pic will be relegated to cult auds.Working with a trusted team that churned out huge B.O. hits (“Bride Flight,” “Twin Sisters”), Sombogaart here delivers a film stitched together by bad decisions. Screenwriter Marieke van der Pol seem unsure how to fuse the story’s philosophical undercurrents (which explore beauty and ugliness, art and consumption) with its more Gothic genre elements. Stockholm syndrome of actress Isabelle (Halina Reijn, charismatic but no conventional beauty) is hardly credible, while her captor (Tineke Caels, under a lot of makeup) doesn’t suggest ugliness so much as a Botox experiment gone wrong. Tech package is hit-and-miss, with unduly harsh lighting in glamour shots.
An A-Film release and presentation of an IDTV Film production, in assocation with NCRV, Samsa Film. Produced by Frans van Gestel, Anton Smit, Arnold Heslenfeld. Co-producer, Jani Thiltges. Directed by Ben Sombogaart. Screenplay, Marieke van der Pol, based on the novella by Tessa de Loo.
Camera (color, widescreen), Piotr Kukla; editor, Herman P. Koets; music, Jeannot Sanavia; production designer, Michel de Graaf; costume designer, Peggy Wurth. Reviewed at Camera 1, Utrecht, Netherlands, Sept. 27, 2011. (In Netherlands Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 97 MIN.
Halina Reijn, Tineke Caels, Wim Opbrouck, Edwin de Vries, Monique van de Ven.