★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Shepherd eschews jump scares and gore in favor of an unrelenting creepiness as its main character finds that the isolation he seeks may be a terrible choice.
Directed by Russell Owen
Writer/director Russell Owen’s U.K. feature Shepherd (2021) is a bleak, brooding affair that demands viewer attention with every howl of wind, whine of dog, ticking of clock, clang of bell, creak of wood, and blast of music that accompany every tension-filled frame. Obviously sound design and score play a large part in this psychological horror, and for every hair-raising on-screen moment, Owen builds just as much tension and dread with what might be just out of frame.
Eric Black (Tom Hughes) has lost his wife and their unborn baby. Dealing heavily with loss and grief, he visits his mother Glenys (Greta Scacchi), who has harsh words about his deceased wife and who refuses to let him stay at their family home.
He then answers a newspaper ad looking for a shepherd on a remote island. Boat pilot Fisher (Kate Dickie) drops him off at the island, with some ominous talk before confirming when she will return. With only his dog for company, Eric is about to find out that the hundreds of sheep he is tasked with taking care of may not be the only other presence on this island.
Shepherd is all about mood. Owen has crafted every shot and sequence to show the despair that Eric is feeling, and how his attempt to escape from civilization backfires on him with every discovery he makes in his new home of a near-dilapidated cottage complete with broken generator, and the wide-open fields and rundown lighthouse in the surrounding area. Cinematographer Richard Stoddard captures everything marvelously, helping a great deal in making the beautiful landscape seem baleful and foreboding. Callum Donaldson’s score punctuates the proceedings wonderfully, working in tandem with his chilling sound design. Hughes, Scacchi, and Dickie all turn in top-notch performances of characters harboring or adding to the story’s mysteries and discomfiting reveals.
Shepherd has the feel of a classic British ghost story. Owen holds an eldritch tone throughout, keeping viewers on the edge of our seats as events unravel. The film is strongly recommended for those who enjoy the mysterious and sinister.
Review by Joseph Perry
Shepherd, from Darkland Distribution, will be available in U.K./Eire cinemas from November 26, 2021.