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  • Writer's pictureSteve

Shepherd (2021)

I don't like cold. I don't like heights. I don't like silence and I really hate sheep and goats. I'm not scared of them. I can sit quite amiably in a field full of them. I just don't trust them. They are the work of Satan and I would happily punch one in the face if it looked at me in even a remotely funny way. Sit through the first half an hour of this and you can see why Shepherd worked so well for me personally.

Additionally, my wife and I are also estranged, though not on different cosmic planes, if you know what I mean. Whilst she isn't around, she's not likely to be the reason, right now at least, that I would worry about being haunted.

When I found myself alone after years of marriage, I didn't choose to live on a desolate island with my dog (don't have one) feeling sorry for myself and jumping at every shadow, I sat in my bedsit, rocking quietly, muttering inanely to myself, nursing a bottle, hoping to forget that this was now my new reality. Loss is hugely powerful, no matter the angle you're coming at it from.

Without going into too much personal detail, Shepherd might be as haunting as I need my cinematic experiences to get to my reality without actually losing my shit over them. But still, others may find this boring, overlong, listless and without purpose or direction.

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, after all. It's all about perspective.

After the unexplained (at the time) loss of his wife, Eric (Tom Hughes) takes a job as shepherd on a remote island with a couple of dilapidated outbuildings and a long redundant lighthouse. His idea of 'getting away from it' is somewhat extreme, but you cannot really blame the guy for wanting some time to himself, to cogitate over the tumultuous events of his recent past. Before he goes, he visits his mother, a scarily effective Gretta Scacchi as I have never seen her before. She rants on at Eric about the whore of a wife he had married and that the baby wasn't his. Not her biggest fan, we can gather.

Accessible only by boat, he is ferried there by ship's captain Fisher (Kate Dickie) who common sense and body language suggest is up to no good whatsoever and is obviously not be trusted as far she could be realistically thrown.

And so begins Eric's unravelling on the island that may just have more to it than meets the eye. Littered throughout with dreams and hallucinations, it never becomes easy to tell the reality from the imaginary. Both are equally grim, all told.

This is not hurried and Eric's slow and tortuous mental descent is evident from the minute he sets foot on the island. Whether this is the island at work, or the imaginative loneliness inside Eric's head is not clear but it's possible that it could be both as much as either/or.

Brilliant performances by all concerned make this a cinematographical delight with the howling wind replacing any score for the majority of the run-time, only throwing in music where necessary. The island is allowed to feel like a character in its own right and when it does, its malevolence is overwhelming.

Highly recommended for the patient and worth multiple viewings if you don't mind being rattled. Personally, I found this quite compelling and unsettling at times, but I think the island will mean something different to everyone that visits.

Astounding work from director/writer Russell Owen. I await his next gift to me with baited breath.

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