Director: Russell Owen
Writer: Russell Owen
Starring: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scacchi, Gaia Weiss, and Jamie Marie Leary
Shepherd is a psychological horror that deals with grief and the way the past haunts us. Eric (Tom Hughes) is struggling with the loss of his wife and unborn child, he’s skipping work, his house is a mess and apart from his dog, Baxter, there isn’t anyone there for him. Even his mother turns him away when he goes to see her. To get away from everything he takes a job as a shepherd on a remote island, thinking the isolation will give him a fresh start. Instead, all his problems follow him and not everything on the island is what it seems.
Director and writer Russell Owen does a fantastic job at building atmosphere in the film. Straight away from the opening moments the film feels slightly unhinged, the loud sounds of Baxter lapping up food while Eric reads the paper is unsettling. When Eric arrives on the island, the house he is staying in is literally falling apart, the wood is old and rotting, there’s mould and grime everywhere to be seen, even the taps don’t work. The world around Eric is decaying and it creates a strange and unnerving tone that the film uses to build the horror on top of.
The score is fantastic, shrieking and grating to make everything that much more unnerving. It builds up an atmosphere of dread and you’re never quite sure what’s about to happen. The whole film, especially the ending, messes with your mind. There are a lot of dream sequences and by the end you’re not entirely sure what is happening and what’s in Eric’s mind.
There is an overreliance on scary things happening and then Eric waking up, which feels a little cheap. There are also a few moments where Eric is moving very slowly to check something, with loud music trying to create tension. There’s a draw in the opening scene that he sees a baby’s hand reach out from, he then moves very slowly to check and it’s clear nothing’s there, but the pacing is so slow. It adds no tension and is almost a parody of other horrors that do the same thing.
Tom Hughes gives a sombre performance, with minimal dialogue. Most of the film is him by himself, so apart from shouting for Baxter, it’s all about how he reacts to the world around him. You can see the grief in his eyes and that there’s something he’s not telling anyone. The fisher who drops Eric off calls him from time to time and asks him to confess. Once he tells her everything, he will be free. The island is a manifestation showing how he is imprisoned in his own guilt and grief.
The biggest issue with the film is that it’s eerily like The Lighthouse. The isolation on the island, the strange use of birds, there’s even a lighthouse on the island that Eric climbs towards the end of film. It feels like a rip-off, and it’s not as good. The Lighthouse plays with your mind and creates a genuinely unique sense of dread and horror. Shepherd follows in its footsteps but doesn’t reach the same heights. There’s no seagull abuse in Shepherd, but there is some sheep abuse.
Shepherd may be unoriginal, but Russell Owen still creates a tense and disturbing atmosphere. Despite its flaws, there is still a lot to enjoy and a genuine sense of dread that builds up throughout the runtime.
Shepherd will be released in UK/EIRE cinemas on 26th November
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