Music Videos Reviews

Isolation Terminal (2023) – 4 stars

Director: Paula Romero

Cast: Cristina Barcaza & Malena Grilli

Running time: 4mins

What came first: the music or the moving images? In ancient times [the mid-20th century], a musician would record a piece and then promote it with footage of their performance or with an accompanying film, in some way conceptually linked to the internal dynamics of the music – most usually with a concentration on the lyrical content. The custom continues to the present day, and music has traditionally been the first mover.

In the case of Isolation Terminal, submitted to IFL as a Music Video, the order of creation is less clear cut. In their submission statement, the film’s director, Paula Romero, makes clear that the intention of the work is to say something meaningful as to the human condition – a more edifying and elevated rationale than the simple promotional exercise that is pretty standard in the genre. Romero does not mention the provenance of the music, so this means that I am none the wiser as to whether they commissioned the music or came across it and thought – wow I’ve got to film that.

As this is a music video, I will start with the music – a piece by DJ Yushh. Yushh works in the electronic music field and Isolation Terminal provides a vivid soundscape of rising and falling intensities that certainly evoke a feeling of neurosis and anxiety. I am afraid that I am a total ingenue as to contemporary electronica, so I cannot identify for you what style Yushh employs – it might even be Retro Lemur Alberta Bounce Fusion for all I know. What I can tell you is that I played the piece several times without the video accompaniment, and it left me enchanted. Although, I suspect I would have to have consumed an entire shelf full of pharmaceuticals, before I might fully appreciate the music’s not immediately accessible nuances and intricacies.  

As to the video; the film opens with a series of blurred images that coalesce into what seems to be a sac, or an ovum made of fabric which splits open to reveal a face. We are then up and running as we see a dancer before, courtesy of some deft editing, we realise we are, in fact, watching two dancers. The dancers wear flesh coloured body stockings. The dance routine takes place in what appears to be a disused office building lit by natural light with various pieces of detritus, a wooden pallet, a redundant electric fan, littering the space. The ambience the director appears to be aiming for is one of stripped down, primal therapy.

The dancers launch themselves into a kind of display ritual – a demonstration of their craft and the extraordinary things they can make their bodies do. The performances by the dancers, Cristina Barcaza and Malena Grilli, are superb. As the display rituals move into an acting out of trauma with the dancers holding their heads and silently screaming at the camera, we gain the impression that these are two people who are not particularly content or at one with their place in the universe. The mood of anxiety and trauma then continues throughout the piece with the dancers aggressively shadow boxing the camera then falling to the floor and crawling in desperation towards us, the viewers, presumably in a search for salvation. When redemption is not forthcoming, we are after all simply the audience, the dancers curl up into foetal positions.

To end the piece, Romero comes up with a beautiful composition. The dancers as they lie next to each other unwind their arms and hold hands just above their heads. They move their faces close together and gaze into each other eyes. The intensity of the feeling of hesitant intimacy that Barcaza and Grilli manage to evoke left me wondering whether we had been asked to think of the two figures as lovers or different aspects of one personality.

The editing and cinematography led by Malva Soler is first class throughout – the sequencing of when and how the two dancers appear is seamless. The filmmakers insert two interpolations both of which are at very high speed which means the casual viewer might miss them.

The first are two frames showing brightly coloured serpentine electrical wiring. I thought this worked extremely well. The viewer is led to associate the wires with the toolbox of electrical devices that DJ Yushh has used to generate the sound scheme, but we are also asked to think about the neural circuitry that is driving the anxiety and pain the dancers are so viscerally portraying. The second is less successful. We are given several shots of broken glass on the floor. I presume the intent here was to convey a sense of danger and make us form some association with the fractured psyche of the dancer(s). However, the device just left me with the thought that it was obvious in terms of production health and safety issues that in reality the dancers would not be dancing anywhere near broken glass – the whole thing came across as a conceit and, frankly, silly.

As I assembled my thoughts on Isolation Terminal, the major problem for me was the location that Romero had chosen, and this links in with a concern as to how accessible the video will be to a wide audience. I hope I am a generous reviewer, but I must confess that my spirits drain away when I see yet another film set in an abandoned office building or post-apocalypse industrial landscape. OK, I appreciate that these locations come relatively cheap – an important consideration for indy filmmakers – but even so. In contrast, I would have been interested to see such a powerful study of anxiety and alienation set before the Flood; my random suggestions would be: in an airport, at a hairdresser, or in a supermarket carpark? In contrast, post-apocalyptic locations simply scream Art House. My worry is that viewers will catch the opening frames of the video on social media and think Art House = Inaccessible = Turn Off and miss a fine piece of cinema.

Romero is a gifted filmmaker who has already had some notable successes and they, in all probability, know their intended audience better than your reviewer. What is certain is they and their team have used the music video category to craft something of beauty and insight. Isolation Terminal has even worked in terms of the ancient magic of music promotion – I am going to check out more of DJ Yushh’s work – hopefully without the aid of the pharmacopeia.

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