Shepherd is a British horror written and directed by Russell Owen following Eric (Tom Hughes) who gets a new job as a Shepherd on a remote island following his wife’s sudden death. The film follows Eric’s descent into madness as he is faced with strange happenings during his stay which force him to relive his wife’s extramarital affairs and her eventual death. The film begins to unfold as we learn more about Eric and what happened in his marriage through the duration of the film. A slow-burner that feels intricately detailed in its writing, Shepherd is one of the best British horrors to be released this year thanks to the originality and impeccable performances.
The film is Russell Owen’s third feature and he both directs and wrote the screenplay. What makes Shepherd such an engaging watch is how well Owen paces the film by allowing us to feel Eric’s sanity unravel. Owen doesn’t rush in and explain everything to the audience but allows the film to naturally develop in a way that feels believable and that we go through the journey with the character. Utilising the Scottish scenery, the film is open in its setting and yet we feel trapped as Eric is contained in his own head. He isn’t free wherever he goes and this contrast is what makes watching Shepherd such an unpredictable experience.
Tom Hughes is excellent in the leading role as Eric. Due to the nature of the film with Eric being alone for a large portion, it’s important to make sure that the actor is capable of carrying the film on their shoulders. Having starred in an array of film and television shows, Hughes is the perfect candidate thanks to his ability to really dig deep into Eric’s madness and his troubled past. The scene in which Eric’s mother “finds” him at the cottage is particularly harrowing as he goes through physical and psychological trauma. His ability to convey the character’s complex emotions is what drives the film on and makes the audience want to keep watching.
One of the best British character actors of the big and small screen is Katie Dickie, who has acted in her fair share of horrors including Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Here, Dickie plays Fisher, a mysterious woman who takes Eric to the island and gives him the rules of living in the rundown cottage and the job. What makes Dickie’s performance so effective is how she can convey so much terror without saying a lot. In many ways, it feels as though Fisher is always lurking nearby even when we don’t see her. Dickie’s performance is quietly horrifying and from the moment we first see her on the boat we know something is not quite right.
The use of sound in this film is fantastic. The majority of the film utilises the sounds of the cottage and island but when there is music, it is spectacular. The score by Callum Donaldson helps the tension to build up and drive it right over the edge as Eric’s sanity begins to collapse. The track where Eric is subjected to his fate perfectly captures the chaos of the situation and the character’s torment. The scores prominence increases as the film goes on implying that, like the landscape, it is a part of the character himself.
Overall, Shepherd is a film that leaves you gripped thanks to its unpredictable nature and the way that the story unfolds merging both mystery and horror. The way that the landscape and internal anguish are blended into one makes it seem that Eric is never alone, even when he doesn’t have an onscreen partner. Hughes is fantastic in the leading role and is sure to have a promising career while Owen has established himself as a brilliant horror director who is sure to also have a great many more films to add to his filmography.
Shepherd is coming to UK cinemas on 26th November 2021!