Director: Russell Owen
Runtime: 1hr 43mins
Cast: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scacchi, Jamie Marie Leary, Gaia Weiss
Synopsis: Eric Black is lost after the mysterious death of his adulterous wife. Running from his past to a new job as a Shepherd, he becomes trapped alone on a majestic, weather-beaten island with an ominous secret. One man’s spiralling madness meets a vengeful supernatural force. What starts as the perfect wind-swept escape becomes a race to save his sanity and his life.
Writer/director Russell Owen [Inmate Zero (2020), Welcome to the Majority (2013), Anglesey Road (2009)] has crafted a brooding, eerie and haunting tale in Shepherd which had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on 14 October 2021.
With a strong ensemble of Tom Hughes [Red Joan (2018), Victoria (TV, 2016-2019 )], Kate Dickie [The Green Knight (2021), Red Road (2006), Game of Thrones (2011-14), The Witch (2015)], Gaia Weiss [Vikings (TV, 2014-2015), Medici (TV, 2018-2019)] and Greta Scacchi [The Player (1992), White Mischief (1987), Presumed Innocent (1990), Shattered (1991)], the film infuses psychological and supernatural horror in a story of trauma and loss.
Eric Black (a coldly, impassive Tom Hughes) is traumatised by the death of his pregnant wife, Rachel (Gaia Weiss) in a car accident, but he knows she had been unfaithful to him. His feelings of loss, betrayal and guilt blend together in a toxic stew that gradually becomes increasingly horrific.
After an aborted suicide attempt and rejection by his condemnatory, Bible-thumping mother (a frightening Greta Scacchi), he takes a job on a remote Scottish island, apparently uninhabited, apart from the sheep which become his responsibility.
The skipper of a visiting boat, Fisher (Kate Dickie) has known that Eric is running from something since she ferried him over to the atmospheric, bleak island.
Uncommunicative, Eric doesn’t want conversation and only has his dog, Baxter for company and to help with his work. Before leaving him on the shore, Fisher confirms that he has his map – it can be easy to get lost out here, she warns.
Cinematographer Richard Stoddard captures the bleak terrain to chilling effect. Dramatic backdrops and colouring help create a beautiful and eerie setting.
The noises of the sound design are used to optimum effect, building a world that is discomforting, paranoid, often paranormal and unnerving. Narrative is strong, with some twists and turns, and leaving some questions open, which all good films should. It is a ghost story, not a slasher, which makes it stand out.
Roaring winds, crashing tides and atmospheric music are heard incessantly on the soundtrack, giving no respite from the surrounding unease.
Haunted by menacing visions of Fisher, his mother, and his dead wife, he surveys the island, finding a dilapidated cottage for shelter, a shipwreck, a disused lighthouse and an unforgiving exterior landscape which offers no prospect of peace.
Eric is a man overwhelmed by grief and isolation, but after his dog Baxter goes missing, he descends into a malevolent nightmare as fights to save his own sanity and confront the troubled past he left.
With subtle nods to classic films, the engrossing story has twists and leaves unanswered certain key questions.
Shepherd is a ghost story, a malevolent dream about grief and isolation atmospherically emphasised with music by Callum Donaldson and set in a supernatural terrain which seems, like Eric, to be holding a dark secret.
Images courtesy of Darkland Distribution