Love The One You’re With
Love The One You’re With.
It is unfortunate that some
places have a reputation for being associated with incest. The likes of America’s Deep South and Brazil
have an unfair reputation for mothers and sisters being one and the same thing
while children with three eyes are readily accepted into the clan. After Shell, the Scottish Highlands may
have to be added to that list.
Shell (Chloe Pirrie) is a 17-year-old girl living in the remote Scottish
Highlands with her father, Pete (Joseph
Mawle), where they run a petrol and breakdown station, Pete dismantling
cars for scrap metal, Shell pumping the petrol. It’s a quiet and lonely life for a young girl who is trying
to find her place in the world.
She knows the sporadic regulars well; Hugh (Michael Smiley), who visits once a month on his way to see his kids
in the nearby town, Adam (Iain De
Caestecker), the local boy with a crush on her. But Shell only has eyes for her epileptic father and the two
of them have a relationship that is, well, complicated.
First impressions of Shell
are how staggeringly beautiful, visually, a film it is. Director Scott Graham makes excellent use of the sprawling Highland vistas
he is afforded. Every blade of
grass, crystal of frost and clouded hilltop paints a breathtaking image. Like Shell, these images are
unblemished by human touch other than the untoward petrol station plonked in
the middle of it all. The local
deer are a convenient visual metaphor, scouring the hilltops for sustenance
much like the visitors to the petrol station forage for Shell’s attention. She is something of a local siren but
her heart is shut off to all bar her father. The deer could also serve as a physical manifestation of
Shell’s wild, untamed nature or possibly the lure of freedom that awaits Shell
should she ever abandon the petrol station. In fact there’s so many deer in this film they should have
their own credit.
While the look of the film
is something majestic to behold the tone and narrative leave you feeling
somewhat empty. The story drifts
along, like Shell, without any real goal, providing a series of encounters
which amount to very little and change Shell’s horizon only slightly. Tonally, it’s bleak, cold and infectious
in making the audience feel this way.
You want to like Shell, she’s a fascinating character, but it’s hard to
truly appreciate what drives her until she starts cozying up to dear old
daddy. And then it becomes clear;
that slightly uncomfortable feeling you’ve had for the first half hour has been
a result of bubbling incestuous sexual tension. What is frustrating is while you suspected it was there,
when it arrives you feel somehow robbed of something more poignant, something
to really hang your heart on. For
all it’s merits Shell starts off as a break to freedom from the isolation and
caged existence Shell leads but it’s undermined by the inclusion of the
incest. The truth is Shell’s
affections for her father doesn’t need anything so gritty as to be poignant and
absorbing. He is, after all, her
entire world, so why force the issue?
Combined with this cold
outlook the performances certainly warm the soul. Michael Smiley, always a hugely dependable character actor,
brings a vulnerable sadness to Hugh who so longs for some form of connection
with anyone. Joseph Mawle is
heartbreakingly damaged as Shell’s father, delivering a reserved, almost glazed,
performance which, given some of the context of the film, never strays into the
realms of creepy. He’s a hugely
sympathetic character with which Mawle injects huge pathos. As Shell, huge credit must go to Chloe
Pirrie in her feature film debut.
Her performance is peppered with intricate character ticks, her dark eyes
belying her naïve innocence. It is
through Pirrie that Shell is given both its beating heart and ice-cold
perspective. With looks somewhere
between Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Andrea Riseborough her ashen face is
quite a haunting proposition in this island of isolation we occupy with
Stunning visuals and
breathtaking performances go some way to rescuing Shell but the lack of plot
and frustrating narrative devices makes for a hollow feeling come the final