Directed By Russell Owen

Starring – Tom Hughes, Greta Scacchi, Kate Dickie

The Plot – Eric Black (Hughes) is lost after the mysterious death of his adulterous wife (Gaia Weiss). Running from his past to a new job as a Shepherd, he finds himself trapped alone on a majestic, weather-beaten island with an ominous secret. One mans spiraling madness meets a vengeful supernatural force. What starts as the perfect wind-swept escape becomes a race to save his sanity and his life.

Rated R for some disturbing/bloody images and adult language

(1) SHEPHERD Official Trailer (2021) British Horror Film – YouTube


Though this is my first experience with the work of Owen, I can coherently interpret that he’s a director who values atmospheric range above all else in his frights. This is evident not only in the presentation, with the kind of spellbinding imagery in scenic establishing shots that give our protagonist a physical isolation to match his psychological one, but also in the structure of his thrills, which aren’t attained cheaply like a barrage of inferior contemporary horror films. Instead, Owen substitutes easily detectable jump scares for a pulse-setting perseverance, like startling imagery, which only enhance effectiveness in audience unnerve thanks in whole to the blanketing sound design offering an immersive captivity from the environmental elements that are constantly beating around us at all times. Topping this is the minimizing of C.G.I properties, which despite the abundance of supernatural instances littered casually throughout, keeps the line between fantasy and reality at times feeling indistinguishable, and for the artificial properties a series of believably influential designs that permeate effortlessly in the air of the scenes they enchantingly adorn. It pushes our limits in the same way it does our protagonist, reaching climactic volume and supernatural conscience that are made all the more condemning with the vulnerability factor of our protagonist firmly established, presenting a gripping angle that keeps audiences hooked even throughout the duration of several slow spells in storytelling. This brilliant effort is reciprocated equally in Tom Hughes’ mental unraveling of a performance, with a complexity so compelling that it requires no reprieve from the one hundred percent of screen time dominance we afford his character throughout. Hughes is definitely the kind of actor who can say more in a look than he ever can with limitless dialogue, and that same articulation that he affords these very tensely tender moments of reflection consistently balance the regret and emptiness that come to define his character, all the while harvesting an underlining ferocity that is reserved for just the right moments to unleash itself. Aside from this, I also found the story (Also written by Owen) to be an endearingly unique representation of condemning grief and the ensuing purgatory that manifests itself as a result of such an internal longing. This affords the film’s creativity the use of exploring such matters with psychological rendering, but never in ways that require interpretation to fully sell their impact. Instead, it’s a fairly coherent channeling that rewards audiences for their investment in picking up on background aspects that the exposition doesn’t waste time elaborating on, and in the case of unfinished business for those left behind, prescribes a universal relatability all the way until a solid twist that I can say I honestly didn’t see coming.



While on the script, I can say that even despite the benefit of an ambitious director and compelling leading lad, the pocketed moments of pedestrian pacing keep the film from ever reaching its truest potential as one of the very best horror films of 2022. This is especially resonant with the film’s ending, which while satisfying from a closure perspective, doesn’t exactly resolve matters during the moment that is most climactic in terms of impact. The meandering during this moment will undoubtedly serve as the biggest distinguishing factor for audience’s landing point. For me, it’s not entirely compromising, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t dramatically underplay moments that should otherwise feel monumental, and in turn took the film down an entire point for building towards a confrontation that is a bit too easy to resurrect. Beyond this, the aforementioned sound designs did bring with them a corresponding dread to the consciousness of the imagery, but also simultaneously undercut the clarity of the dialogue at times when answers are a necessity. This is tough enough with the thickness of the Scottish accents requiring several double takes during the opening minutes of the film to establish consistency, but made impossible when the musical score and environmental elements are counteracting against their audibility, obscuring the volume levels of the interactions to muffled mundanity of the most concentration-breaking variety. Finally, though the air of derivativeness is virtually inescapable in previous films like “1408” or “The Lighthouse”, which feel so prominent in the creativity of pivotal scenes and sequences here throughout, the film itself does very little to distance itself from such conforming ideas. Certain scenes bare more than a few similarities, not only in the way they play out, but also in the way they’re even shot. This makes “Shepherd” feel like a film that is directly lifted from the A24 catalog, but never in ways that feel complimentary, instead serving as one of many descendants that have sprung from such inspirational originality. Familiarity can certainly be comforting, but in this circumstance, it undercuts the film’s own expansive footprint, keeping it from ever finding its own creative spark that it uses to push the envelope further from prominent predecessors.



“Shepherd” isn’t exactly breaking new ground with genre-heavy familiarity that limits its appeal all the way to an underwhelming climax, but it does attain impeccable direction through intensely chilling atmosphere and a whirlwind of a performance from Hughes taut psychological uneasiness at the helm. It’s a bleak, brooding incubus that casts suffocating danger in the air of its isolated setting, if even just for the way it forces us to confront the demons from within that we can no longer hide from.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

5 thoughts on “Shepherd

  1. hm. Sounds interesting. Isolated island movies are always at least a little good. I’m more surprised by the brevity of the review, actually….your last few seemed longer than average, and now this one seems practically tiny by comparison lol

  2. Wow. I am completely in the dark on this one, but I’m honestly kind of interested now that you you’ve done such an eloquent job praising the film. Between the heavy emphasis on being atmospheric and being carried by strong performances, the film intrigues me. However, the familiar elements and comparisons to superior films make me hesitate to check it out. Either way. I’m glad you found enough to appreciate to at least catch the attention of your readers like myself who’ve never heard of this. Great job!

  3. Interesting read. As much positivity that the film seemed to garner for your review, it didn’t draw me in. We’ll see about viewing this one but you never know once Halloween time rolls in.

  4. Not usually my wheelhouse, but I feel that i got more from your review then I would from the movie. Thank you for the descriptive review.

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