REVIEW: Shepherd (2021)

dir. Russell Owen

Following the death of his pregnant wife, Eric Black (Tom Hughes) takes a job on a remote Scottish island as a shepherd. Maybe some breathing room will help him heal, but as the ferrywoman (Kate Dickie) who facilitates his crossing remarks, he’s either escaping or running. Which of these it is – and whether either will work – remains to be seen, for when Eric arrives things seem immediately amiss: there’s a long-dead lighthouse, the sheep have escaped, and the house he’s staying in is dark with decay. Add to this that Eric’s mind is already fraying – hypnagogic visions of his unborn child haunting his waking daymares – and the claustrophobia of the island quickly takes hold, reality folding in on itself in a post-traumatic embrace.

As with recent genre hits Caveat and The Lighthouse, director Owen’s latest is similarly concerned with bearded, traumatised loners drifting onto the shores of some supernatural rock. However whilst those films were a drum-tight exercise in tension and painterly Lynchian hell-trip respectively, Shepherd struggles to herd its ideas together. It’s beautifully lensed by DP Richard Stoddard, and Callum Donaldson’s discordant score rattles the nerves, but as the minutes draw on across an overlong run-time there’s a sense of too much space for too slight a story.

That said, some moments do excel. A mid-point march into rolling mist and some last-act images jangle the nerves. Hughes too is very good, spending the majority of the screen-time alone, his eyes speaking of a man who’s psychological resources have been gradually eroded by the ceaseless tide of a vast, sublimated pain. Sadly it’s not enough to buoy a narrative that ultimately feels both heavy-handed and light, and though Owen looks to be a promising director this outing is sadly underwhelming.

⭐⭐⭐

Tim Coleman

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