Russell Owen (director)
26 November 2021 (released)
17 November 2021
A point to get out of the way first is that Shepherd does share superficial similarities to both the 2016 and 2019 Lighthouse films mostly in tone and setting. However a deeper dive reveals that these are quite different films and need to be viewed in their own right and judged that way.
An immersive opening of a drowning man gives way to some spectacular landscapes as we focus in on what was a bad dream for Eric Black (Tom Hughes) who is mourning the death of his wife. At a major juncture in his life, he comes across an ad for a job as a shepherd on a remote Scottish island. Intrigued and thinking this could be just what he needs he applies and is successful. A visit to see his mother (Greta Scacchi) before he goes leaves him in no doubt that there are irreparable issues between them, dashing any doubts he may have had about his course of action.
Eric is ferried across to the island by a strange one-eyed Captain (Kate Dickie). It’s a lonesome place virtually desolate save for the sheep, a small ramshackle home and a lighthouse. Assured by the Captain that she will deliver his supplies weekly, Eric is left alone save for the sheep and a dog.
After this unsettling set-up Eric familiarises himself with his new environment only to continue to have bad dreams, which appear as portents as well as re-living the past. These combined with the noises and visions in the house that may or not be his imagination, begin to take their toll on Eric.
This is as much a study of the mental stress of guilt and isolation as it is full blown physical horror with writer/director Russell Owen deftly blending the two. Eric is already mentally isolated after the death of his wife and with no one to turn to decides that physical and mental isolation is the solution.
Effectively removing himself from society he mulls on his lot, keeping a journal as the Captain suggested. Around him there’s evidence of previous occupants through their journals and pagan symbols suggesting there are other more tangible powers at play than his imagination.
The small cast are all excellent. Dickie and Scacchi have small parts though key to film and Eric’s unravelling. Hughes is outstanding, his face and eyes expressing his torment as much as his physical movements across the barren landscapes trudging after sheep and dog do.
Owen has made the best possible use of the rugged landscape giving it a grey dull beauty into which are splashed some colour and disturbing images. The use of sound and the score by Callum Donaldson are integral too creating a genuinely creepy and otherworldly atmosphere. These in turn provide the ideal foil for the special effects that are used sparingly and subtly to maximum effect.
All in all this is a very good debut.