Shepherd (2021) – Film Review
Director: Russell Owen
Cast: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scacchi
By @Roger Crow
We are all haunted by demons, plagued with regrets. It’s one of the reasons horror films strike such a resounding chord. Empathy with protagonists sore with remorse, stalked by personal demons – it’s what links us to them. And as Eric Black is one of the few blokes in this handsomely crafted chiller, it’s essential we bond with him early on. Except THAT soundtrack is beating us around the ears, like a huge pair of cymbals clashing either side of our head while we’re trying to concentrate on the action.
BOOMING. CLANGING. Ominous noises. A baby crying. Wind lashing. Some chillers have subtle soundtracks, the lack of sound is a bonus when it comes to building suspense. Not Shepherd. It sounds like the score was delivered with the aid of that enormous speaker from Back to the Future’s opening scene when Marty gets propelled across the room after plugging his guitar in.
However, get past that OTT soundtrack, and this is actually a pretty good horror thriller.
Running from his past to a new job as a shepherd, our troubled hero becomes trapped alone on a majestic, weather-beaten island with an ominous secret.
Blessed with fantastic, atmospheric landscapes, a gloriously gothic lighthouse, and some often stunning imagery, this deserves full marks for art direction. And while it commits that cardinal sin of title cards like The Shining, and EVERY OTHER FILM OF RECENT MONTHS (see how annoying that is?), there is plenty to recommend here.
The gorgeous dog steals every scene, but cute pets in horror films rarely make it to the closing titles. I’ll not say what happens, obviously, but blimey, it’s not something you forget in a hurry.
So yes, once more we get to witness one man’s spiralling madness, like The Shining, and the lovely Kate Dickie once more proves why she’s the absolute queen of playing unhinged, slightly other worldly characters.
And then there’s Greta Scaachi, whose prolonged scene while attempting to do the washing up is proof that some characters really should buy a dish washer.
Did I mention the creaking noises; things going bump in the night; the wind howling, and the over produced sound effects? You get the picture.
“A good scare”
As a side note, I recently had a chat with Star Wars and Alien set decorator Roger Christian, whose cult 1980 short Black Angel is a visually stunning masterpiece of shoestring budget film making. Whether by accident or design, there are moments which look like Black Angel remade. A spectral figure in a wooded landscape. Artful drowning. That sort of thing.
If you fancy a good scare, then Shepherd ticks that box admirably. It features a fine cast, and some great shocks. It might not reach the dizzy heights of The Wicker Man (few films do), but as gothic, creepy, unnerving chillers go, it’s a must for those in need of a Halloween fright.
If I was a shepherd who had to spend longer than five minutes in that lighthouse, I’d get the flock out of there. Yes, a dreadful gag, but some levity would have helped the movie enormously instead of a long, grim tone.
Let’s hope the next film from writer/director Russell Owen features some lighter shades, and sound effects which haven’t been turned up to 11.