Review by Sean Boelman
Recent years have proven that the horror genre doesn’t have to be reliant on gore and jump scares to succeed — a little bit of tension and some interesting themes can do the heavy lifting. Russell Owen’s Shepherd is one such film that emphasizes mood over anything else, and it’s an eerie, if somewhat uneventful watch.
The movie follows a grieving man who retreats to a secluded island in the hopes of a fresh start and trying to maintain his sanity, only for him to find himself tested when his past comes back to haunt him. It’s a psychological horror the likes of which we have seen dozens of times before, and Owen does little to reinvent the wheel.
Its glacial pacing is sure to put off some who are less intrigued by the idea of watching a slow descent into insanity, but more universally frustrating is the fact that the final third of the film feels extremely rushed. Understandably, Owen seemed to want to leave the conflict feeling resolved to an unsatisfying level, but it’s a bit too cut short for its own good.
Owen also fails to explore any themes that are particularly interesting within his movie. It covers the standard grief and guilt storyline that is common for any movie about a mourning widow/widower who decides to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. It has surprisingly little emotional resonance for a film with this subject matter.
One of the big issues with movies that are about isolation like this is that there are no supporting characters to boost the protagonist when their arc is weakly written. There are some ominous other villagers in the film, and some of them are even genuinely creepy, but they all exist merely for the purpose of pushing the plot along.
Indeed, a majority of the movie’s weight rests on Tom Hughes’s back, and he does a decent job carrying it. Granted, it’s not stellar work like something such as Robert Pattinson’s turn in the similarly-themed The Lighthouse, but Hughes does a good enough job of bringing the emotion and a slightly unhinged feel to the role.
It can be argued that Owen succeeds much more in the director’s chair than he does as a writer here. The cinematography by Richard Stoddard is gorgeous but cold, creating that atmosphere that is so integral in the film’s success. And there is some fantastic effects work in some of the movie’s more horror-heavy bits.
Shepherd is a solid movie for what it is, even if it seemingly aspires to be something more. It won’t stick with you in your mind like the best of the psychological horror genre do, but it’s eerie enough to be worth your time.
Shepherd is now in theaters and hits VOD on May 10.