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  Shepherd Island Of Terror
Year: 2021
Director: Russell Owen
Stars: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scaachi, Gaia Weiss, Jamie Marie Leary
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eric Black (Tom Hughes) has recently suffered a bereavement, as his wife Rachel (Gaia Weiss) has died in tragic circumstances, doubly so because she was pregnant at the time. Consumed by grief, is there something else in Black's emotions - perhaps guilt? He knows he has to get something to take his mind off this misery, a chance to get away from it all and regroup, since he is increasingly falling victim to vivid dreams and hallucinations as a result of his troubled mental state - he didn't really see a tiny hand emerging from the kitchen drawer, did he? Therefore when he reads in the newspaper classified ads of a job offer on a remote Scottish island to be a shepherd, he knows this will be perfect, he even has a pet collie to help him herd...

Shepherd fell into the "guilty secret" category of horror fiction, where the protagonist must endure all sorts of indignities as a rite of passage to absolve his sins, and there was a definite religious tone to the punishment Black is put through here, without getting bogged down in the finer details of theological discussion. Besides, there's no one around on that island for him to discuss with, he can't exactly hold a conversation with the dog, can he? That sense of isolation was important as we could not work out whether the weirdness he was experiencing was real or all in his head, an old trick especially favoured by the more surreal flavour of chillers, so much so that director Russell Owen risked skirting cliche when he embraced these tropes with such enthusiasm.

Hughes was in practically every scene, and had to act harassed in almost all of them, which left him in danger of providing a one note performance - there comes a time when his frequent shouts of "Baxter!" (the dog's name) begins to remind you unintentionally of Will Ferrell's pet in Anchorman. But then again, while there were lulls in the atmosphere of dread, in the main Owen sustained a mood of mounting hysteria, assisted by a soundtrack of chopping fury that rose to so many crescendos you wondered how far further over the top he could reasonably go. There were other characters, Kate Dickie as a boat captain who takes Black out to the island and Greta Scaachi as his aggrieved mother who was evidently jealous of the attention her son gave to his wife, who she considered unworthy of him, but even there we were uncertain of their reality.

Nevertheless, these two women offered someone else for Black to talk to, if only for a short while, so we could attain a notion of where his head was at, as if the near-constant waking up from a nightmare with a start was not enough (they resisted the temptation to have Hughes sit bolt upright staring into the camera after one of these jolts, and for that we must be thankful). One of the biggest assets was the landscape of the Scottish island, a starkly beautiful arrangement that naturally is captured with extensive use of drone footage, as was the way in contemporary movies and television. Indeed, so caught up with the imagery did Owen become that he neglected his plot, and although you could work out what was happening by the end, it was a bit of a struggle when the film was so in love with its freaky visuals and LOUD NOISES. If that did not bother you, and you enjoyed the fever dream style of horror this employed, then you would likely enjoy the confusion which at least appeared to be wholly purposeful, establishing a fugue. Music (loud) by Callum Donaldson.

[Shepherd will be in UK/EIRE Cinemas from 26th November 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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