Latest Review – Shepherd (LFF 2021) (65th BFI London Film Festival)


Dir. Russell Owen


Primarily filmed on the Isle of Mull, Russell Owen’s eerie and atmospheric psychological horror stars Tom Hughes as a grief-stricken young man (Eric) who takes a job as a shepherd on an isolated and weather-beaten Scottish island following the mysterious death of his unfaithful wife.

Accompanied only by his faithful Border Collie, Eric sees this as an opportunity to escape from life for a while and seek out the solitude he so craves, but left alone on this mysterious isle, his overwhelming grief – combined with the mysterious, supernatural elements of the island – soon begin to take their toll. Consumed by it all, Eric soon begins a nightmarish descent into spiralling madness as the lines of reality are unnervingly blurred.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Richard Stoddard, and accompanied by a haunting and sweeping rural soundscape – filled with howling winds, creaking floors, tolling bells, and the piercing cawing of crows – Owen’s impressive film makes superb use of the desolate landscape to build tension, unnerve its audience and enhance the psychological elements of the piece.

Due to the dialogue being so sparse, the film requires a strong lead capable of carrying it effectively, and Hughes does an excellent job in an emotionally-challenging central role that places him on-screen alone for much of the duration. There is also suitably chilly support from Kate Dickie as an ominous, one-eyed ferry operator; a charon-esque figure transporting Eric across his own Styx-like stretch of water to a fate he is unprepared to face.

With its slow-burning approach and bleak setting, the film does of course bring to mind the work of Robert Eggers, notably 2019’s The Lighthouse, and Owen’s film proves a very worthwhile watch for fans of the genre.

SHEPHERD is a film brimming with menace, paranoia and simmering tension, and lifted significantly by the performances Hughes and Dickie, Owen’s delivers an unsettling and very effective study of grief, guilt and psychological trauma.

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