Relatively new director Russell Owen has managed to do something that very few directors can do even when they’re tenured, let alone at the beginning of their career. Only one other director comes to mind who can create this kind of atmosphere and that is Robert Eggers, director of The Witch, The Northman, and The Lighthouse, or as I am now dubbing it the The trilogy. Shepherd builds tension around atmosphere and an in-depth character study which holds the entire movie together. When a movie provides you with sheer atmospheric horror and a performance that is nothing shy of brilliant, the audience is in for one hell of a journey, and Shepherd delivers all of that and then some.
Following the untimely death of his wife, Eric (Tom Hughes) decides to look at taking a new job on a remote island off the coast of Scotland as a shepherd staying in a lighthouse, isolated, dealing with the horrors of losing his wife and his conscious. The boat he has to take on his way to the distant island is lead by a one-eyed Fisher (Kate Dickie). There are some words of wisdom and thought-provoking insight that is provided by the Fisher that brings the audience to question Eric’s conscience and involvement in his wife’s sudden and unfortunate death.
There is something exhilarating with Russell Owen’s script that is haunting and brilliantly done. There are clear elements of both Eggers’s The Witch and The Lighthouse here with a modern telling of a folk-like horror with elements of isolation, sanity fleeing our leading character, and just a digression in deciding if what the audience is being exposed to is in fact reality or a break of the psyche. Owen manages to craft such a compelling story without saying much all, leaving so much of it to be brought to life by atmosphere and isolation.
As well, the performance by Tom Hughes is nothing short of remarkable. He manages to convey such emotion and conviction throughout the role and never lets the audience know what is, in fact, reality and what is just his loneliness breaking through his psyche as we watch him quite literally fall into a descension of madness. There is something exceptional when an actor is able to convey such emotion and conviction throughout a role practically alone. Tom Hughes deserves all the praise and recognition for this role, as his performance helps carry the eeriness and horrors that are presented throughout the direction and storytelling of the film.
Now, incredible performances and a well-executed story certainly help progress a film for an audience, but when the cinematography can also be striking and thought-provoking, there is a new level of brilliance that is brought to the film as a whole. The cinematography presented here by Richard Stoddard is awe-inspiring; every shot is more beautiful than the last. There is something so poignant and beautiful about these exterior shots of the island, and the use of dead space to convey the loneliness that Eric is experiencing while leaving his former life behind to escape the horrors that he has endured in recent history is something truly haunting. Everything in Shepherd, between cinematography, acting, direction, and writing, makes it a must-see independent horror movie for the masses. Russell Owen is a name to look out for in the future, as his eye for intensity in storytelling and direction is certainly not one to be missed.
In theaters May 6th, 2022.
Available on VOD and digital May 10th, 2022.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.