‘The job to die for’
Shepherd is a 2021 British horror film about a man who takes a job on a remote Scottish island and begins to suffer paranormal visitations.
Written and directed by Russell Owen (Inmate Zero). Produced by Karim Tshibangu and Aslam Parvez.
The Golden Crab Film-Kindred Film production stars Tom Hughes (The Laureate; A Discovery of Witches; London Town), Kate Dickie (The Green Knight; Prevenge; The Witch), Gaia Weiss (Meander) and Greta Scacchi (Waiting for the Barbarians; The Terror TV series).
** For news of the May 2022 US release please click on our updated coverage here
Widower Eric Black (Tom Hughes) attempts suicide after the suspicious death of his adulterous wife. He becomes distracted by a bizarre advertisement for a shepherd, working alone on a remote, desolate island off the west coast of Scotland. Eric grabs the chance to run away from his troubles and reflect.
However, the island is a psychological trap. What appears to be the perfect windswept escape turns into the most terrifying, inescapable nightmare.
A bump in the night morphs into a horrifying mind game, where the paranormal meets one man’s escalating madness. Haunting images of his dead wife and a mysterious hooded figure taunt Eric to the brink of insanity. Eric needs to face his greatest fears if he has any chance of surviving and escaping the island…
Beyond its initially uninspiring title and some familiar story beats, Russell Owen’s Shepherd is mostly an intensely powerful mood piece that drags the viewer into doomed protagonist Eric Black’s lonely living hell. As Eric, Tom Hughes has to carry most of the film himself and he does a splendid job in a role that could have easily descended into mere pathos; instead, he exhibits anger and determination amidst all the guilt and visions.
Stunning cinematography by Richard Stoddard – that perfectly captures the windswept desolation of the island – combines with an evocative score and eerie sound design by Callum Donaldson to propel the film’s unsettling scenario forward. For the viewer, it feels as if we are as trapped as the formerly suicidal would-be shepherd. A truly unforgettable disturbing scene involving the flock of sheep and Eric’s dog Baxter will undoubtedly remain in most viewers’ minds long after the film is over
Unfortunately, the largely impressive psychological delivery is hampered by a certain amount of repetition and the rather slow build to what seems like a somewhat obvious ending. There is also no escaping the fact that the film’s running time is way too long for such a slender tale and many impatient viewers may well be inclined to check out after one of the many visions and sudden sweaty awakenings.
Given there’s an abandoned lighthouse in some of the film’s most effective sequences comparisons, unfair or not, will inevitably be drawn with Robert Eggers similarly-themed island nightmare. Notwithstanding the coincidental theme, the latter undeniably benefits from some dark humour and surrealist imagery that helps to enliven the overall grimness. In Russell Owen’s hellish creation there is no respite and some may find Shepherd too drawn out and depressing. Shepherd is definitely worth watching for all its positives but this is an extended trip and no easy ride.
Adrian J Smith, MOVIES and MANIA
“While it’s true that grief is familiar ground for writers of psychological horror, Shepherd manages to set itself apart with a truly gruesome climax and disturbing reveal. Shepherd opens with a quote from Dante’s Inferno, referencing Hypsipyle as pregnant and alone, and the resulting guilt that Virgil must endure. This thread flows throughout the film as we come to realise that Eric is faced with his own version of Hell…” Addicted to Media
“Shepherd may be unoriginal, but Russell Owen still creates a tense and disturbing atmosphere. Despite its flaws, there is still a lot to enjoy and a genuine sense of dread that builds up throughout the runtime. ” Ashley Manning
“The guilt of loss can gnaw away at us, and as Eric tries to think of anything but he is repeatedly drawn back into himself. Writer/Director Russell Owen’s film is a subtle take on psychological horror. The dark and rugged landscape is shrouded in shadows. Shepherd plays on this remoteness to create a creepy and eerie tale.” Backseat Mafia
“Some of the imagery is effective – a field of crucified animals, stripped of their carcasses, startles – but the ending was well telegraphed and I couldn’t reconcile the force of the supernatural happenings with the rather mundane upshot. Beautifully photographed, yes, but strangely uninvolving.” Dark Eyes of London
“The ideas and intentions are clear, even when they don’t work. The film’s biggest failing, though, is that its writing and characterizations are not robust enough for it to succeed as the serious meditation on guilt and grief that it strives to be. As it is, Black sets off in search of himself but doesn’t like what he sees. Depending on your patience, you might not either.” Dread Central
“Writer-director Russell Owen clearly knows how to use the tools in his arsenal to build mood and atmosphere. The trouble is that like the character being plagued by the same haunting images every night, the film feels eerily familiar. The central plot and character’s backstory is nothing new or groundbreaking to fans of the genre.” Flick Feast
“It’s ripe with interesting moments that make you wonder if they are there for metaphor’s sake or simply added colour. Watching Eric’s Macbeth-style descent is gripping at times if a little morbid. I wish I could have enjoyed Shepherd as much as I feel the film deserved, but there is one major reason why I couldn’t: the music. Written by Callum Donaldson, the score is very effective, a gothic blend of strings and moaning, but there’s just too much of it.” Horror Obsessive
“The final moments may play things more conventionally than the rest of the film has, but in so doing the confusion and mystery only grows and leaves the viewer to piece together the film’s final twist. As a first-time feature, Shepherd is a brave and well told tale that creeps with dread and shows touches of blackest horror throughout.” London Horror Society
“Most of the elements in Shepherd are absolutely fine, without ever being anything more, but some parts – such as Dickie’s performance and Stoddard’s cinematography – stand out […] For a film about a man herding sheep, Shepherd very much stays true to this with its obedient usage of an overwhelming amount of well-worn and well-trodden horror tropes.” Loud and Clear
“Hughes does a fine job of carrying the film. For most of the running time, he’s left alone on screen with no other humans around and so it’s up to the actor to convey his increasingly distressed psychological state without the aid of dialogue […] Shepherd establishes Owen as someone who understands how to craft a horror movie, but there’s little here that fans of the genre will find fresh or novel. At close to two hours the movie lags in parts.” The Movie Waffler
“If you fancy a good scare, then Shepherd ticks that box admirably. It features a fine cast, and some great shocks. It might not reach the dizzy heights of The Wicker Man (few films do), but as gothic, creepy, unnerving chillers go, it’s a must […] some levity would have helped the movie enormously instead of a long, grim tone.” On: Yorkshire
“There are perhaps a few too many dream sequences and startled awakenings, but there are still some genuine shocks to be had. Shepherd is a powerful film that won’t be for everyone but fans of tortured soul movies and great ghost stories will find plenty to enjoy. There will likely be comparisons with The Lighthouse, but Russell Owen stamps a unique mark on this…” Starburst
“Special note should be made of the cinematography and setting […] Fully utilising psychological horror in a precise and considered way, Shepherd stands out amongst its peers as a great example of how to build unbearable tension – and deliver on it. It manages to innovate on a classic premise and stand out on its own merits.” UK Film Review
Parkland Pictures picked up worldwide sales rights to Shepherd. Sister company Parkland Entertainment acquired UK distribution through its new imprint, the genre-focused Darkland Distribution and will release the film in UK/Eire cinemas from 26th November 2021.
In the UK, Darkland Distribution will release Shepherd on Blu-ray and Digital Download on 21st February 2022.
Russell Owen said, “Like most storytellers I’ve always been drawn in by compelling, fractured characters. Shepherd is my second feature. I’ve navigated my way through the film industry from being a storyboard and concept artist, to writer and director of over a hundred commercials and shorts. In many respects, I see this as my first feature. It’s the first true opportunity to express my own creative voice in long form.
It’s a terrifying if not beautiful character-driven piece about one man’s futile escape from his own guilt. Growing up in Wales I drew inspiration from local ghost stories such as the Smalls Lighthouse (a true story about lighthouse keepers going mad off the coast of Wales in the 1700s. It was also coincidentally the inspiration for Robert Eggers recent The Lighthouse filming at the same time).”
He continued: “Shot in one of the most beautiful, remote and less filmed parts of Britain, using specifically designed location and studio sets, we created a 360 degree, immersive environment to really build a true authenticity in a heightened, nightmarish tale. Shepherd allows its audience to decide for themselves the motivations behind (and the fate of) its protagonist by not giving its true foundations away.”
Cast and characters:
Tom Hughes … Eric Black
Gaia Weiss … Rachel Black
Greta Scacchi … Glenys Black
Kate Dickie … Fisher
1 hour 44 minutes