Shepherd is showing in cinemas nationwide from the 26th of November.
We all run from something; sometimes, it’s an obsession we can’t shake; other times, it’s an event that haunts our dreams, and occasionally it’s a mistake that can’t be undone. Throughout our lives, we choose what to accept and what to bury deep within our minds. But sometimes, the very thing we try to bury continues to claw its way to the surface, no matter how far we run or how much we try to forget. These themes find a clear and, at times, a haunting voice in Russell Owen’s Shepherd. However, despite its visual beauty and assured atmospheric horror, Owen’s film ultimately gets lost in its finale, leaving the viewer bewildered and confused.
Eric Black (Tom Hughes) escaped the trappings of the family-run farm long ago to marry a woman his mother despised, his father dying just a few months after he left. However, despite the family drama that haunted him, Tom had found a semblance of happiness. But when his wife dies suddenly, Tom finds himself imprisoned by grief and guilt; every waking hour, a nightmare of haunting visions and thoughts. With the hope of escape, Eric accepts a job as a shepherd on a remote island, his last hope for peace in a journey with his dog to a lonely and mysterious wind-swept isle. But, no man can forever run from the guilt consuming their soul.
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Themes of grief and guilt are nothing new in the realm of horror; therefore, many directors attempt to find a new twist on these evergreen ideas. Unfortunately, it is here where Shepherd disappoints, as it tries to offer something unique in its finale when its strength lies in the classical horror proceeding it. However, despite this disappointing twist, there is much to admire in the lead-up to its conclusion. For example, Tom Hughes understated performance is riveting as Eric slowly descends into an internal and inescapable hell. While the first few haunting days on the island, including his meeting with the mysterious Fisher (Kate Dickie), pay homage to the best of M.R James in both style and tension.
Within its strongest moments, Shepherd shares more than a few similarities to Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse and Kubrick’s The Shining. However, unlike both movies, Shepherd never quite manages to find a satisfying conclusion that builds upon its themes of isolation, internal torment, and cabin fever.
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Shepherd is an Edgar Allen Poe and M.R James-inspired slice of psychological horror at its best. But, at its worst, it is a movie that tries too hard to find a new hook, forgoing the tension it builds rather than embracing it. However, as M.R James once said, “If any of my stories succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.” From this perspective, Owen’s movie does the job intended, even if it never quite finds its voice along the way.