Shepherd Review

After the death of his wife Rachel (Gaia Weiss), the grief-stricken Eric (Tom Hughes) takes a job as a shepherd on an isolated, unpopulated island. With only his dog and the sheep for company, he begins experiencing strange occurrences which force him to confront his own demons.

by Nikki Baughan |
Published on
Release Date:

26 Nov 2021

Original Title:


Atmospheric and assured — if somewhat unsubtle at times — Russell Owen’s rural British chiller makes the most of both its remote location and an exceptional performance from Tom Hughes (TV’s Victoria and A Discovery Of Witches). Spending much of the film’s running time (supposedly) alone on screen, Hughes shoulders the story’s psychological themes with a restraint that is at potent odds with the film’s full-tilt Gothic aesthetic.

From the moment we meet him, Eric (Hughes) is a man adrift. His unfaithful wife Rachel (Gaia Weiss) has died in a car accident; his fervently religious mother Glenys (Greta Scacchi) has disowned him for choosing “that whore” over the family farm. So, when Eric sees a job advert for a shepherd on an unpopulated island, he jumps at the chance.


Desperate for solitude, Eric ignores the warning flags festooned like bunting over the island. His one-eyed employer Fisher (a brilliantly macabre Kate Dickie) won’t cross a line gouged into the earth; the lighthouse lamp is out; the rundown cottage moans and groans; the telephone doesn’t work; his dog, Baxter, growls at the dark and whimpers in corners. And that’s just the first night. As the week progresses, Eric experiences increasingly bizarre events; ones that will force him to confront his worst fears.

Some of the visuals go for too-schlocky scares rather than the slow-burn horror deployed with skill elsewhere.

Cinematographer Richard Stoddard captures the island’s desolate crags and tumultuous shoreline in beautiful wide shots that dovetail with close-ups of Eric’s pain-etched face. His dreams — of water, of funerals, of his wife — take on an almost ethereal quality in contrast. Production design by Chris Richmond is similarly evocative, Eric’s meagre cottage a prison by any other name. Composer/sound designer Callum Donaldson creates a haunting soundscape of howling winds, creaking timbers and distant voices.

Some elements are less successful. The use of a dead wife — an adulterous one, no less — as motivation for a male character to embark on a journey of the soul is a tired narrative cliché, and some of the visuals go for too-schlocky scares rather than the slow-burn horror deployed with skill elsewhere. But, while the idea of psychological trauma manifesting as physical space has been well used in genre (Identity, Shutter Island, Triangle et al), Owen imbues Shepherd with enough individual personality to make it an effective, and affecting, study of loss, grief and guilt.

While it may be somewhat heavy-handed, Russell Owen’s Gothic horror benefits greatly from its isolated location, effective visuals and strong performance from Tom Hughes.
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