GORE IN THE STORE

REVIEW INDEX

SHEPHERD ****

Directed by Russell Owen.
Starring Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scacchi.
Horror, UK, 103 minutes, certificate 15.


Released in cinemas in the UK 26th November by Darkland Distribution.

 

Writer and director Russell Owen manages to accomplish a lot with a limited number of resources here in his third feature. A small cast, one main, striking location and the reliable staple of a ghost story provide the framework for a familiar tale that is strikingly told with a number of lingering images that are both haunting and bloody.

 

From the films beginning we are immersed in Owen’s commanding sense of visual storytelling. A figure suspended in dark water followed by the image of an empty coffin being filled with a number of objects, among them a framed photo of the woman whose body should be resting at peace inside it. Straight away we learn of our protagonist Eric’s plight; widowed and mourning the loss of his wife whose body has gone missing after an unspecified incident. Racked with grief, Eric decides to take up a shepherding job on a remote Western island. Taken there by boat by the foreboding Fisher, a never more menacing Kate Dickie, Tom tries to settle in on the cold, windswept island in a dilapidated croft inland from an imposing disused lighthouse. All alone with only his faithful dog Baxter for company, Tom soon realises that there may be something else on the island with him, forcing him into a reckoning with the secrets of his own recent, tragic past.

 

As familiar as the story may sound, the films beginning even takes a cue from THE WOMAN IN BLACK with the appearance of a spectral figure in the distance, Owen manages to pack enough of his own visual ideas in here to make SHEPHERD stand on its own. The film has atmosphere to spare, thanks in big part to the chilly location work, filmed mainly on the island of Mull and in Wales.  This lends the film a distinct sense of it being set in neither one place or the other, especially with its English and Scottish double act of Hughes and Dickie, leading the viewer to guess at the films possibly otherworldly setting.

 

It seems that SHEPHERD has taken the low budget trick of writing and setting it around with what resources were available. Luckily those resources lend the film a unique sense of place, resulting in one truly surprising location that visually stuns and helps further the otherworldly atmosphere as well as deepening the narrative. Genre savvy viewers may guess where they are being taken but all the same this is a journey worth taking if only for the sights, they will be shown which ramp up in a disturbing and bloody manner.

 

SHEPHERD is far from an empty exercise in visual flash however thanks to its small but dedicated cast. As Eric, Tom Hughes does extremely well in a part that sees him playing against nothing but a small set, a wide-open landscape and a dog. As good as he is though Dickie manages to steal the film effortlessly. With her tattered coat, hat and cloudy eye she exudes menace like no-one or nothing else on screen this year. Obviously modelled on mythic ferrymen of ancient lore her dialogue drips with a palpable maliciousness. These accomplished performances along with its directors smart, visually stunning sense of storytelling make SHEPHERD well worth checking out.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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