Eric Black (Tom Hughes) is struggling to come to terms with the recent death of his wife Rachel (Gaia Weiss), who was carrying his unborn child at the time. His house is untidy, he’s not going to work and he’s being haunted by some pretty disturbing visions and dreams. The details surrounding her death are not clear at first, but it’s apparent that whatever happened, Eric is now harbouring a hell of a lot of guilt.
Eric spots a job advert in the local paper. A shepherd is needed for a remote Scottish West coast island that is home to 600 sheep, and Eric is interested, obviously keen to get away from it all and grieve in solitude. Following a brief visit to see his mum (Greta Scacchi), who has rather a lot to say about his deceased wife’s adulterous behaviour, Eric heads off to start his new job. He travels to the island on a small boat that is piloted by the mysterious Fisher (Kate Dickie). Fisher takes Eric up onto the island, not venturing further than an old abandoned lighthouse, and points him in the direction of the rather grim-looking, run-down old house that he will be calling home during his time on the island. Fisher tells Eric that she will return in a week in order to deliver supplies, before leaving him alone to get on with it. Apart from his dog Baxter that is, who has come along to keep Eric company.
The house is just as grim and bleak on the inside as it is on the outside, even after Eric gives it a bit of a spring clean, but he soon settles in and begins his new role of caring for the island’s sheep. When it’s time for bed, we learn that Eric suffers from an acute fear of heights, bad enough to make climbing the stairs a slow and difficult process. And when he does eventually make it to bed, he continues to suffer from nightmarish visions involving his wife, his unborn child and a dark supernatural figure. What started out as the perfect chance to escape from his past, soo becomes a race to save both his sanity and his life.
There is a thumping, ominous score that plays out pretty much non-stop throughout Shepherd. Terrifying, dread-filled music with occasional undertones of moaning or creaking noises, which under normal circumstances would work wonderfully at building up horror or terror. However, the fact that it is almost constant soon becomes distracting. A shot of the desolate landscape…. booming, ominous music. A shot of the dog looking at nothing in particular…. booming, ominous music. A close-up shot of a sheep’s eye…. booming, ominous music. You get the idea. And when something worthy of the nerve-shredding score does actually manifest itself? Well, turns out it was all just a dream, with Eric waking up suddenly as events reach a climax.
Things continue to get much, much weirder for Eric and when Fisher contacts him by telephone, she seems to know exactly what’s going on. But she isn’t giving any answers, opting instead for calm, vague responses which are supposed to come across as chilling and mysterious, but just add to the overall annoyingness of the film. I don’t even know if we’re meant to know what the hell is going on as there aren’t exactly any clear answers, explanations or clues. I guess it’s all meant to be open to interpretation, but when the build-up has been this uninspiring, it all just comes across as yet another lazy copout that delivers a disappointing ending. And poor Tom Hughes is stuck with a character who’s as dull as dishwater.
There are some good ideas at the heart of Shepherd, occasional glimmers of hope that quickly fade. The use of sound is certainly impressive, until it soon becomes overused. Ultimately, Shepherd is unoriginal for the most part and poorly executed.
Shepherd received its World Premiere at this months London Film Festival and will receive a general theatrical release on 12th November.
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Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.