Shepherd is showing in cinemas nationwide from the 26th of November.
We have all run from something at some time; it could be an obsession we can’t shake or an event that continues to haunt us, and occasionally it’s a mistake we made that can’t ever be undone. Throughout our lives, we choose what to accept and own and what to bury and attempt to forget. But sometimes, the things we try to push away claw their way to the surface, no matter how far or fast we run. These themes find a clear and, at times, haunting voice in Russell Owen’s Shepherd. However, despite its visual beauty and atmospheric horror, Owen’s film ultimately gets lost in its finale, leaving the viewer bewildered.
Eric Black (Tom Hughes) escaped the trappings of his folk’s farm long ago to marry a woman his mother despised while his father lay dying. That family drama haunted him for years despite Eric finding a semblance of happiness in the arms of the woman he loved. But when his wife suddenly dies, Eric is imprisoned by grief and guilt and seeks escape from his lonely life. Looking to rebuild and heal, Eric accepts a job as a shepherd on a remote island with his dog by his side. But no man can forever run from the guilt consuming their soul.
Themes of grief and guilt in horror are nothing new, and I have lost track of the number of directors who have attempted to find a new twist on these themes. Shepherd initially seems to have found something new by going back to the ghost stories of old, paying homage to M.R. James, Edgar Allen Poe and even Dickens in the slow-building tension the island creates. However, this tension doesn’t last long, and as we near the film’s finale, it’s clear that Owen’s film has lost its way in the mists of its own creation. Peppered throughout are nods to the work of Robert Eggers and Stanley Kubrick as Owen explores guilt, isolation, internal torment, and fear, but unlike the directors named above, Owen trips up on his own ingenuity and leaves us frustrated rather than intrigued. 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.” For all its early chills, Owen’s movie never leaves that kind of lasting impression.