Synopsis: Haunted by the recent death of his wife, widower Eric Black seeks solitude as a shepherd on a remote Scottish island. As the bleak desolation of the foreboding landscape and terrifying visions overwhelm him, Eric is pushed to the brink of madness.
Stars: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Gaia Weiss, Greta Scacchi
Director: Russell Owen
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: If you are anything like me, when you’re exhausted and not wanting to put forth much effort, there are types of movies you look for as you scroll through a queue on a streaming service by going off the displayed image alone. Maybe you’ll read the description. Maybe you’ll watch a trailer (for me, the first 30 seconds or so). Maybe you’ll do a quick IMDb search to ensure the film doesn’t have a 2.2-user rating. Usually, though, you point, click, and go for it. Shepherd is a film you watch because you’ve gone to the horror section, seen the creepy cover, read the words “remote Scottish island,” and decided that brief blurb sold you.
A recent widower (Tom Hughes, Infinite) struggles to adjust to life without his wife, who had perished in a car accident and whose body was never recovered. Early on, there’s a suggestion from his mother (Greta Scacchi, so glamorous in 1990s Presumed Innocent, now dressed to look like a potato sack marm) that the wife had affairs. Perhaps that’s why the man can’t fully reconcile with her death…or the loss of the baby she was carrying at the time. Over coffee, he finds a want ad for a shepherd with lodging in a lighthouse on a desolate piece of land off Scotland’s coast and seizes that opportunity to escape his memories.
Wouldn’t you know it, alone with just his dog and several sheep to keep him company, all he has are dark recollections of the past that begin to haunt his present? The grizzled boat captain with the milky eye (Kate Dickie, Prometheus) who brought him over speaks as if she can see through secrets he has hidden away, but does she have something to do with the odd occurrences which start to happen to him? What of the figure in black that appears as a harbinger of doom and draws ever closer, urging him to repent? Are these happenings all in his mind, the result of a grief-stricken husband that hasn’t yet fully dealt with his loss, or are they the result of guilt manifested as supernatural spooks biting at his heels for eternity? What if it’s not in his mind, and something genuinely is out to get him?
I want to say that writer/director Russell Owen’s chilly thriller cuts some new ground in the genre, but Shepherd is a generic ghost tale that otherwise gets the job done much of the time. Working through a pre-made checklist of necessary things that go bump in the run-down lighthouse, Owen creates a pleasant mood for most of his feature film but never makes a case for it being anything you feel the need to recommend to a friend. It simply suits its purpose, and that’s that. Shock jolts arrive and dissipate, tension mounts and releases, the sun goes down, and it comes up. You can hear the pages flipping, almost as if Owen and his crew are working through a textbook.
Not one to completely write off, Shepherd does have good work from Hughes and especially the dependable Dickie who never met a line she can’t make into some ominous portent of doom. Primarily a solo exercise for Hughes, it helps that the actor holds our attention for most of the (too long) run time. Would this have been trimmed up to 80-ish minutes, it would have allowed the tension to remain tighter longer and kept the weaker passages filled with paint-by-numbers drama out of it completely. If you toss this one on around 9:15 pm, you’ll be through by 11:00 pm and ready to jump into bed with a nice little zing of fright. Any earlier, and you’ll be wanting more to fill your plate; any later, and you’ll be snoozing.