Isolation. It’s one of our most common fears. That’s why so many horror films are built around this very simple premise. They may try and build some more complex themes around this – with varying success – but when it comes to it, the scares come out of that simple isolation. The concept of being alone, far from any sort of help. Having only your own mind for company. Russell Owen’s Shepherd is a prime example of this simplistic approach, following Eric (Tom Hughes, A Discovery of Witches) as he takes up a job shepherding on an unpopulated island after the death of his unfaithful wife.
Desperate for that aforementioned isolation and solitude, Eric begins to experience bizarre and ultimately horrifying events that lead him to confront his worst fears. All the hallmarks are here – a dog barking at seemingly nothing, a mysterious and disfigured employer, a telephone that doesn’t work. Nothing here will come as particularly original to seasoned viewers, and therein lies the film’s greatest flaw.
But with that said, there’s certainly enough atmosphere here to keep our attention. Cinematographer Richard Stoddard’s haunting visuals, combined with the soundscape of composer and sound designed Callum Donaldson, proves to be a terrifying combination and gives the film a spooky vibe that does inspire dread throughout and maintains our interest in the otherwise fairly bland narrative.
Ultimately, Shepherd just doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, and there’s no escaping the film’s abundance of cliché and tonal confusion that can veer wildly between the film’s well-crafted slow-burning atmospheric dread and naff, cheap scares. Shepherd is an unoriginal experience for sure, and certainly not without flaws – but hiding between the more predictable fare is a haunting sense of atmosphere and dread that keeps us interested to the final frights.
SHEPHERD is available now