Remote locations lend themselves extremely well to horror. Director Russell Owen certainly uses this to his advantage for his latest film Shepherd, which is set on an island so isolated that the only inhabitants are a flock of sheep. The sheep are soon joined by Eric (Tom Hughes), a man seeking complete solitude after the death of his pregnant wife (Gaia Weiss). Answering an advert seeking a shepherd, Eric makes the arduous journey to the island and takes up residence in a dilapidated old house.
From the moment the audience meets Eric, it is clear that there is more than just grief that is haunting him, and perhaps it is these preoccupations that allow him to miss the foreshadowing that suggests that all is not right on this island. For one, his employer Fisher, a macabre and one-eyed boat woman (Kate Dickie) will only take him so far onto the island, refusing to cross a line gouged in the earth. The house also shows signs of unwelcome – the telephone doesn’t work, there is no running water, and Eric’s dog Baxter whines and whimpers at seemingly empty spaces and dark corners.
Shepherd is the perfect vehicle for Hughes to show his acting prowess because for the majority of the film he is completely alone with nothing but Baxter and the sheep he must tend to for company. Hughes’ performance is exceptional and a lack of dialogue in no way detracts from his ability to convey his torment and anguish.
Though Eric is alone, the island feels like a character in itself. Richard Stoddard’s cinematography captures the island in all its isolated glory and the vast expanse of its desolation is shown in beautiful and sweeping wide shots. The effective cinematography is joined by an equally effective score and sound design as every creak, groan and the howl of the wind reverberates and keeps the audience on their toes. At times, the nerve-shredding score is almost too much to take and certainly adds to the horror as it builds to a crescendo of fear.
Shepherd’s slow burn and psychological elements work really well, for the most part, however, at 103 minutes, the film threatens to overplay its slow burn nature and a slightly slimmer runtime would have worked to Shepherd’s advantage. As the island threatens to completely isolate Eric, similarly Shepherd may isolate some of its audience because it relies a lot on patience and intrigue and takes its time to build.
Grief and loss have oft been studied in horror and Shepherd is another good addition to this sub-genre. Supremely atmospheric, Shepherd is best watched on a chilly night under the safety and warmth of a cosy blanket.
Psychological thriller/horror | UK | 2021 | 15 | Blu-ray, Digital | 21st February 2022 (UK)| Darkland Distribution| Dir. Russell Owen | Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scacchi