Review: 'Isaac' Sensitively Explores Familiar Territory — and Keeps You Guessing

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday September 19, 2021

'Isaac'
'Isaac'  (Source:Reeling)

"Isaac," the adaptation of the Antonio Hernández Centeno play by co-writers/co-directors Ángeles Hernández and David Matamoros, is p[artly a mystery and partly a middle-aged coming out drama. Told mostly from the point of view of Nacho (Pepe Ocio) — including his frequent recollections of life as a teenager with his best friends — the film follows him through the icy labyrinth of his marriage to Marta (Maria Ribera), who is feeling pressured by her wealthy parents to have children in order to gain "social currency." Nacho, too, wants kids, at least in the abstract, though it may not be for any reason other than helping burnish his image in order to serve his budding political career. The thing of it is, Marta is so unwilling to submit to expectations of motherhood she's secretly using an IUD, and she keeps the pretense going even when talk turns to using a surrogate.

When one of Nacho's old friends, Denis (Iván Sánchez) reappears, some of the iciness from Nacho's marriage spills over into how he greets his long-lost friend. Nacho is resentful of the way Denis simply vanished one day, leaving him without the strong, confident protector he'd long relied on. Also left vulnerable was their mutual friend Isaac, a point Nacho reflects on but is slow to bring up. The story of why Denis left without a word of farewell, and what happened with Isaac after Denis' departure, is slowly drawn out.

So, too, are the complexities of the plot, which concerns Denis approaching Nacho for a sizable loan in order to open a restaurant. When Marta seems reluctant, Nacho finds a solution that answers everyone's (presumed) needs: He proposes giving Denis and his girlfriend, Carmen (Erika Bleda), the money Denis seeks if Carmen will consent to serving as a surrogate.

This, for some reason, entails Nacho having sex with Carmen (evidently an attempt at non-sexual insemination doesn't work). Emotional complications ensue, but they pale in comparison to the torrent of desire, hope, and excitement that bursts forth when Marta and Carmen go off on a sort of bonding weekend together and Nacho consummates his lifelong love and desire for Denis.

Does Denis actually love Nacho back? Will their weekend fling result in relationship problems or interfere with the surrogacy? Or does Denis have some other motive in mind? All that aside, will Carmen's initial unhappiness about having to be pregnant with Nacho's child turn into something different, and will Marta be able to overcome her own reluctance to becoming a mother?

The emotional fireworks are sensibly kept low-key, which helps the film avoid staying into melodrama, camp, or farce; instead, the story turns into a study of how four people with different wants and expectations rub up against each other, with love, lust, resentment, and other intimate feelings welling up.

Though there are some tonally questionable moments (a shot of a specimen jar full of semen and an injection device cut directly to an image of a lawn sprinkler gushing water in spurts — the sort of visual joke we'd expect in a sex comedy rather than a drama that's otherwise so careful to be sensitive), but the directors know how to channel each scene's momentum in order to unveil each new revelation. By the end the biggest surprise might be how unsurprisingly things turn out, and yet the road to getting there is often far from obvious.


"Isaac" is screening at Reeling Film Festival (Chicago) and Out On Film Atlanta.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.