Two women wash up on a deserted beach. They seem to be tossed there by the waves, not by choice, but theirs was the choice to flee – something. They set up life in a surprisingly immaculate home, eating crabs on the beach and finding comfort in each other. Of course, the lovers are not far into their secluded idyll – albeit their strange, physically isolated one – until another washes up on their shore, and it becomes clear that the infection one is afflicted with will kill anyone without immunity. 

Splendid Isolation emerged from director Urszula Antoniak’s pandemic musings and takes its title from a 19th-century British army phrase about avoiding permanent alliances. While dealing in a fantastical scenario and far-too-real fears, the mundane takes up much time on the screen. Washing hair, purifying water, and patrolling an endless empty beach – often accompanied by silence or diegetic noise only – becomes hypnotic. The constant expectation of some large, visible, tangible horror on the horizon maintains tension even in the most domestic scenes, and the grief that breaks in its place is both underwhelming and perfectly, wholly right. 

Despite the emotive premise and strong, appropriately strange performances from all three cast members, Splendid Isolation never quite reaches the full potential of its fears, hopes, and guilts. Or perhaps, through deliberate understatement and eerily layered footage, it drives home the unknowable. Mileage will vary by viewers’ expectations and patience, but the visuals Antoniak brings to the fore will stick in minds even when the details of the physical separation do not. 

While Splendid Isolation feels unfulfilled, the frustrations ultimately heighten the unanswerable questions of connection and safety in a world that feels intent on destroying both. Regardless, Antoniak’s mesmeric vision is clear, and her eye for minutiae satisfies when overarching themes are not always met. 



CAST: Anneke Sluiters, Khadija el Kharraz Alami, Abke Haring

DIRECTOR: Urszula Antoniak

WRITER: Urszula Antoniak

SYNOPSIS: Two lovers live on an isolated island, fleeing something unspoken and scraping survival from a hostile environment.