Shepherd (2021)

Director: Russell Owen

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Greta Scacchi, Gaia Weiss, Jamie Marie Leary

Opening the film in a concise and appropriately bleak manner, writer/director Russell Owen informs viewers of the necessary information. Haunted by nightmares of a bodiless casket and visions involving a baby, Eric Black (Tom Hughes) is grieving for his deceased wife and unborn child. The troubled past lingers over a resentful relationship with his mother, leaving Eric to find solitude taking a shepherd job on a remote island.

Arriving on the island with his dog Baxter, Eric is shown his decaying lodgings by Kate Dickie's one-eyed ferry operator. Among her foreboding warnings, it's mentioned how there's no electricity due to a faulty generator, and how easily one can get lost on the island. Once he's given a journal and told to keep it safe, it feels like the set-up for a survival horror video-game that questions whether the terror is internal or external.

As Eric spends his days isolated from human contact, this set-up offers to showcase the spiralling madness of this distressed widower locked in his own personal hell. It's unfortunate the disquieting setting feels hampered by lacking atmosphere, while chills and thrills seem woefully rare amid the dragged-out runtime. What's saddening is the clear potential lurking within, as evidenced by a particularly distressing sight that'll leave animal lovers squirming. It's a shame these instances are barely frequent, leaving audiences with ham-fisted dialogue within a drab try at "elevated horror". Despite the cast's best efforts, this film's most effective element is replicating counting sheep.

Shepherd is available in cinemas from 26th November