The Movie Waffler New to VOD - SHEPHERD | The Movie Waffler


shepherd review
In the aftermath of a tragedy, a widower takes a job as shepherd on an isolated island.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Russell Owen

Starring: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Gaia Weiss, Greta Scacchi

shepherd poster

Along with the rom-com, horror is the genre that provides the greatest amount of lead roles for women. As horror fans we like to pat our favourite genre on the back for its progressive values, but in most cases the reason for casting women as the protagonists tends to be based on the regressive notion that an audience will fear more for the safety of a woman than a man. It seems odd that we're still running with this idea in 2021, because it's clearly nonsense. I think I speak for the male sex when I say that if I were being chased by a masked, machete wielding maniac I would be howling for my life and hitting notes as high as any scream queen.

shepherd review

Writer/director Russell Owen gives us a rare horror movie with a male lead in Shepherd. Devastated by the loss of his pregnant wife (Gaia Weiss) in a fatal car accident, Eric Black (Tom Hughes) just wants to be left alone with just his dog Baxter for company. He finds the perfect opportunity for such solitude when he accepts a job as shepherd on a remote island off the west coast of Britain, where he'll have no company but that of Baxter and 600 sheep.

At least, that's what he thought. As is so often the case with seemingly isolated locations in horror movies, it turns out Eric isn't entirely alone here. He hears strange noises in the night and finds warm cups of coffee stained with lipstick marks on his kitchen table. Could Fisher (Kate Dickie), the sinister woman who ferried him to the island, be trying to drive him mad for some odd reason? Or is something more supernatural behind his torment?

shepherd review

Most of the film's scares come as the personal demons haunting Eric begin to physically manifest themselves. Owen makes great use of his windswept, fog-shrouded locale, with Eric spotting figures through the fog that could either be spooks or tricks of the mind. Even if no supernatural element was introduced to the film, the isolated setting is scary enough with its levels of hardship (it looks bloody freezing).

Hughes does a fine job of carrying the film. For most of the running time he's left alone on screen with no other humans around and so it's up to the actor to convey his increasingly distressed psychological state without the aid of dialogue. Hughes convinces us that, as I previously said, just because he's a grown adult male doesn't mean he wouldn't be as terrified as anyone else when malevolent spirits start popping up. With the introduction of Baxter I initially feared that Owen might use the dog as a sounding board, allowing Eric something to explain the plot to, ala Will Smith and his pooch in I Am Legend. Commendably, Owen resists such a cheap storytelling shortcut. Instead he dishes out plot development through visuals and the occasional flashback.

shepherd review

Shepherd establishes Owen as someone who understands how to craft a horror movie, but there's little here that fans of the genre will find fresh or novel. At close to two hours the movie lags in parts. But Owen's eye for a haunting visual (one particular image was genuinely shocking) suggests he may be a filmmaker to keep an eye on, through closed fingers of course.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.