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Shepherd (2021) review

By David Dent

I really liked director Russell Owen’s last film, 2020’s sci fi opus ‘Inmate Zero’, and this enigmatically made horror drama follow up is a production of equal quality, if slightly less satisfying than his previous outing.

Tom Hughes plays Eric, a man whose wife Rachel (Gaia Weiss) has died in a car crash while pregnant. A bereft and barely functioning Tom, haunted by images of the crash and the baby he will never hold, heads north, first to the parental home in Scotland where his mother (Greta Scacchi) wants nothing to do with him, and then deeper into the mountains, to take up a job as a shepherd.

He is shown round the ramshackle accommodation that goes with the job by local boat owner Fisher (Kate Dickie), a woman with only one good eye (eyes will feature heavily in this film) who looks like she’s never left her home village. Curiously as part of the accoutrements she leaves for him is a blank journal (he later finds similar books, presumably completed by previous occupants of the house, which suggest that his predecessors had all lost their mind). “Escaping or running?” asks Fisher. She also tells him that “something’s haunting you, Mr Black, I can see it”.
If Tom was hoping to escape his fears, he finds that his new location has actually compounded them; a scribbled message in one of the journals reads “She’s a witch, she’s here” and visions of a gnarled creature are the least of his problems. A nearby lighthouse offer a different but equally powerful set of terrors. As Tom becomes more and more disoriented in his temporary home, it seems like something there wants him.

The issue I had with ‘Shepherd’ was that everything looked too polite and mannered, from the designer scuffing of his Scottish home (which I could never believe wasn’t a set) to the visions which seemed almost elegantly interspersed. Some of the imagery is effective – a field of crucified animals, stripped of their carcasses, startles – but the ending was well telegraphed and I couldn’t reconcile the force of the supernatural happenings with the rather mundane upshot.

Beautifully photographed, yes, but strangely uninvolving.

Shepherd had it’s World Premiere at BFI London Film Festival and will be in UK / EIRE Cinemas from 26th November 2021.

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