Starring: Chloe Pirrie, Joseph Mawle, Michael Smiley
On a road in the remote Scottish highlands, 17 year old Shell (Pirrie) lives and works on an isolated service station with her epileptic father (Mawle). The two share a complex relationship but are seemingly content with the isolated life they lead, as they do rely on one another. Shell remains loyal to her father despite being the object of affection for two regular customers; the middle aged Hugh (Smiley) who drives past on his way to visiting his estranged children and the shy Adam (Iain De Caestecker) who is more her age. The isolation of the surroundings does however inevitably put a huge strain on the father-daughter relationship with life changing results.
No matter how hard any good honest film fan will try to see as much as possible, there will always be the films (especially the lower budget ones) that slip through the net and the BAFTA ‘Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer’ category is always of great interest to me partly for that reason. Released in March 2013, but nominated in that category at the 2014 BAFTAs for writer/director Scott Graham, Shell is a dark and atmospheric film. Opting for subtext, motif and suggestion over obvious explanation, Graham’s film keeps its cards very close to its chest making for an at times challenging watch, but the not wholly answered questions certainly linger in the mind long after viewing.
What Graham does do brilliantly is utilise the setting to create a vivid atmosphere. The scenery is beautiful and remote, but yet despite that, partly through the tight camerawork there is an overpowering feeling of claustrophobia that is at times suffocating to watch. These characters have so much open space around them, and yet they are prisoners to their own personal demons. Graham proves a big budget is not necessarily needed and with his affective use of location and the well judged slow character driven pace of the narrative he creates a haunting and involving atmosphere.
These feelings are enhanced by all the actor’s committed performances, the anxieties and internal demons expressed with little dialogue, just body language and looks. Admittedly every character is painfully miserable and the depressing tone of the narrative will not appeal to all and it does feel that sometimes characters are as physically depressed as they can humanely be, but the tone overall is well judged.
Likewise the slightly rushed ending undermines a little of the patient and well judged build up, but all these characters are all ones we care about, making for an unforgettable ending.
Shell is an impressive debut, with Scott Graham producing a deeply atmospheric mood piece of a film. It ventures bravely into some very dark territory at times, but it is well judged with characters of genuine depth and intrigue, creating a genuinely haunting film.