In SHEPHERD (2021), a man mourning the loss of his wife accepts a job as a shepherd posted on a remote British island, only to find it a personal hell. There’s a whole lot to admire in this stylish horror film, though I found the basic story wanting. Let me explain…
Eric Black is bereft after the death of his wife. Barely able to function, he decides to escape for a while by taking a job as a shepherd on a remote British isle. A creepy boat pilot brings him there. The house where he’ll be living is a mess, but he makes it home and tends to the sheep. Then odd things start to happen … frightening visions, a mystery, and something that appears to be hunting him.
There’s a lot to like here. The acting is solid, with pros like Greta Scachi and Kate Dickie rounding out the minimalist cast. The setting of the windswept, barren, and dreary island is fantastic and lovingly displayed. The slow trickle of reveals about Black’s past punctuate and assist rather than drag down the central conflict. The horror elements deliver creep and punch in equal measure. Thematically, the film is about loss and the personal hells it inflicts on the mourning, particularly when there’s a sense of guilt attached.
Unfortunately, for me, it all comes undone in the last act. I mean, from a technical perspective, the story comes together perfectly, wrapping everything up and revealing what is really going on. It just doesn’t work, at least for me. Just as horror and comedy are kissing cousins, horror and justice are often directly related, and that is absolutely the case in SHEPHERD–it’s an explicit part of the theme. My problem is the guy didn’t really deserve this hell, it’s that simple. And the writer seemed to go out of the way to make me believe this. The result is a view of grief and guilt that’s way more nuanced than the movie presented itself as, not to mention bleak, as it implies redemption doesn’t mean you’re free.
Minor spoiler/trigger warning about an animal dying: I should also add a warning for those squeamish about animals being hurt, particularly pets. Black has a dog, and from the first scene, you think, oh, that poor dog, he’s probably a goner. If you think that, you’d be correct. You don’t see the death occur, but you see the aftermath, and it’s kind of a gruesome scene.
Overall, I liked SHEPHERD for its acting, excellent artistic direction, brooding setting, ominous atmosphere, strong horror elements, and overall story, though I left feeling fairly unsatisfied by the story itself, notably in its conclusion. I’d still recommend it for horror fans, as again there’s a lot of good here–frankly, as a whole it’s a cut above average–and you may get more out of the ending than I did.