Herding EVIL Emotions to Your Doom! “Shepherd” reviewed! (Darkland Distribution / Digital Screener)

“Shepherd” on Blu-ray from Darkland Distribution!

The death of his young, adulterous, and pregnant wife pushes Eric Black into wanting nothing else but space from the rest of the world.  He ships off with his dog Baxter to an isolated lighthouse island, answering a classified job ad to be a shepherd of a flock over 600 sheep.  His arrival to the island’s dilapidated living house is beyond below expectations but serves the purpose of avoiding everything that reminds him of his lost wife and previous life.  When loneliness creeps around the entire stretch of the fog-covered island and intense nightmares sweep over him nightly, being trapped at his new home away home stirs madness into his everyday cup of life that also could be possibly the malevolent dealings of a supernatural presence residing on the island with him. 

Mourning is already a powerful post-shock emotion that can swallow a person whole without warning.  Couple the intense bereavement with a bristly line of behind-the-scenes loathing creates a perfect maelstrom that bears a force more soul crushing and more untouchably violent on the mind.  This is the psychological assaulting premise for Russell Owen’s new film entitled “Shepherd.”  The Welsh-born writer-director conjoins daunting atmospherics with slow burn deterioration and a Hell of one’s own making that questions conscious and subconscious morals.  Owens stretch through grim realities continue well after his first two films, a 2013 post-apocalyptic thriller in “Welcome to the Majority” and a 2020 survival of zombified inmates with “Inmate Zero,” the latter initiating the island motif for Owen’s latest film.  “Shepherd” is 103 minutes of bone-chilling folk horror from Golden Crab Film Production (GC Films) and Kindred Film under fellow producers Aslam Parvez and Karim Prince Tshibangu reconnecting with Owen from “Inmate Zero.”

“A Discovery of Witches’” Tom Hughes embarks nearly solo on this frigid and fog-encrusted journey through self-segregating terror as Eric Black in order to break off Black from a world that won’t leave him be nor let him forget.   Hughes amasses a broody-flavored anguish, quietly stewing, fretting, and absorbing with great sedated composure the bombardment of strange occurrences during his stay on sheep island.  From his time with witches and vampires, the Cheshire-born, mid-30’s actor might be the lead of “Shepherd,” but it’s actually Kim Dickie (“Prometheus,” “The Green Knight”) who steals the show with her forebodingly salty fisher.  Haggard in appearance with a white, ghostly eye, Dickie’s frightsome performance and unsettling calm tone of voice could instill shivering fear into anyone who charter’s her boat heading toward a forsaken island.  The interactions between Hughes and Dickie are scarce with Dickie overshadowed by Hughes often wandering the island screen time like an avatar lost on in the fog of a Silent Hill horror game, waiting for something to pop out of the shadows and collecting clues to progress his story along.  Rounding out the cast is Greta Scacchi as Eric’s widow-bitter and devout mother and Gaia Weiss in a flashback and dream role of Eric’s deceased wife.

“Shepherd” immerses itself fully into the ideal concept of personal Hell with a wraparound mystery that batters and bruises the psyche of the protagonist, shielding away the hard-to-face truth, until a realization moment unfolds all the paranormal pastiche we’ve seen before in films such as Andrew Wiest’s “The Forlorned” and even Robert Egger’s “The Lighthouse,” both which involve lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, and a mixed-nuts’ tin of supernatural-madness. Trying to separate’s “Shepherd’s” niche from a very specific type of supernatural mystery subgenre surrounding a beacon of warning, or hope in some cases, is difficult to accomplish because each film, though stylistic diverse and eerily alluring in their own rite, regurgitate the same core context hinged on being unhinged. Now, what I’m not saying is that a remote, weather-beaten, and creepy lighthouse doesn’t make for a good setting – it sure as hell does – and cinematographer Richard Stoddard’s visual redecoration of the popular holiday tourist refuge, Isle of Mull, into a seemingly desolate, yet still a behemoth, island of nothing but monolithic rock faces and green grass as far as the eye can see. Stoddard’s use of in-flight drone cameras enables the visionary to capture breath-taking wide shots that dwarf Eric Black on his walkabouts in search for various odds and ends, providing an additional sense of overwhelming loneliness that pressurize the character to a breaking point. Space becomes an emblem of cursed irony for Eric between his need for separation from his disconnected place in the world to the vast space of Earth that inundates him into a bone-shivering panic. Space is also utilized by Russel Owen who’s able to manipulate through decent computer imagery the illusion of a large ship liner eerily resting a valley of fog or even taking a note out of Hitchcock’s shooting technique handbook of POV distortion, faltering Eric’s mind by disorienting him with swaying depths that play into the character’s fear of heights in another nod to the Hitchcockian coffer.

About every few years, a tense lighthouse lip-biter washes ashore. Released this past February of 2022, filmmaker Russel Owen’s psychological pilgrimage of coming to terms with consequential terror is his shot at the equivocal contretemps of one unlucky soul stuck on an eroded plinth of stone and shore. Darkland Distribution releases “Shepherd,” the second indie horror from Parkland Distribution’s dark subsidiary motion picture line, onto a UK Blu-ray with certified 15 rating and digital download, available off such platforms as Itunes, Amazon Prime, GooglePlay, Sky Store, Vubiquity (Virgin), BT, BFI Player, Rakuten TV and more. Since this review is based on a digital screener, I am unable to comment on the specifics of the Blu-ray A/V quality. The inhospitable-saturated soundtrack by Callum Donaldson is an unnerving mixture of low industrial rumblings and high anxiety string dissonance sure to keep the blood curdling with every resounding note and slice deep when the shocking time is right. I mentioned Stoddard’s eye for profound looming landscapes, capturing the natural beauty of the island, that are kept in continuity with the weathered fiber of the house and lighthouse interiors to match despite being shot inside a constructed studio set; however, a deep blue tint is added in post at random intervals of interior shots that pop out of place like a dislocated thumb, taking away from the realism and stepping more into the cerebral caged surrealism from which Owen ebbs and flows. “Shepherd” herds all the right tropes into a pen of madness. With a ferocity of natural imprisonment and the threat of evil dense within every molecule of the island, this awake nightmare fuels the ominous fire, but can’t quite reach its gut punch ending that curtails off toward ambivalence without cherishing a satisfying single resolution.

“Shepherd” on Blu-ray from Darkland Distribution!

Creepy. Kooky. Mysterious. Spooky. All Together EVIL! “The Addams Family 2” reviewed (MGM and United Artists Releasing / Digital Screener)

RENT “THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2” ON PRIME VIDEO

Morticia and Gomez Addams have lived dangerously head on for all their grotesque lives and loving every second to the fullest with their strange family.  Nothing scares the macabre mother and father of Wednesday and Pugsley until their children begin to display the adversarial and angsty signs of growing up, creating a distancing wedge between them.  As Morticia and Gomez are missing the hideous and fright-filled family time once shared morosely and adventurously between them and the children, a zany road trip is planned across the deepest, darkest parts of the country to rekindle again that kooky Addams family bond, but when the threat of possibility that Wednesday may not truly be an Addams comes to light, Morticia, Gomez, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Thing, and even hairy cousin IT, will do anything, kill anyone, to prove Wednesday is a full-blooded Addams.

For over 80 years, Charles Addams’ creepy-crawly and spookily quirky family has been entertaining the masses with their avidity for danger and the deranged.  Now, one of America’s favorite bizarre families is back on the big screen with the animated sequel, “The Addams Family 2.”  Returning directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon delivered an origin story in 2019 that developed the who and how the demented Addams came to be one as one of the most lavishly and lovable lamentable families we all grew up with in popular culture.  The Canadian-American filmmaking twosome take the Addams’s on a road trip into a whole new direction with a standalone story separate from the first’s that revolved around inclusion and not judging a book by its cover.  “The Addams Family 2” is a production of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Cinesite Animation and presented by BRON Creative, a Jackal Group/Glickmania production, with Conrad Vernon, Gail Berman, Jason Cloth, Aaron L. Gilbert, Kevin Miserocchi, Andrew Mittman, Alison O’Brien, and Danielle Sterling return as producers and executive producers. 

The sequel reteams the loaned voice talents of “Dune’s” Oscar Isaac as Gomez, “Prometheus’s” Charlize Theron as Morticia, “Suspiria’s” Chloë Grace Moretz as Wednesday, “Big Mouth’s” Nick Kroll as Uncle Fester, and “Hocus Pocus’s Bette Midler as Grandma, picking up almost entirely where they left from the first film, voicing the core characters with twisted, haphazardly happy soul that keeps aligned the original concept with room for originality.  Hip-Hop and gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg also returns as the manipulated high-pitched voice of Cousin IT and lending his more vocational vocals on a couple original songs for the soundtrack, including “It Ain’t Nothin’.”  However, one original film voice doesn’t make an encore.  “Stranger Things” and the upcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” star Finn Wolfhard is replaced by feature film newcomer Javon “Wanna” Walton as Pugsley Addams due to, supposedly, Wolfhard’s pubescent changes in his voice.  To circumvent an obviously different sounding Pugsley, Tiernan and Vernon reduces Pugsley amount of dialogue to nearly zilch with only an exclamation or two as Pugsley becomes more of the running gag, punching bag trope for Wednesday’s diversely ingenious methods to off a die hard Pugsley.  Also new is Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”), who always manages to be typecast in animation as a pygmy, shrewd character – see “Incredibles,” “Toy Story,” and “Happily N’Ever After” for reference – playing a hired hand to “It’s” Bill Hader, who comes aboard as chief antagonist, Cyrus, with a master plan to make a lot of money off Wednesday’s unmatched smarts. 

Cinesite’s animation continues to be a tribute to Charles Addams’s original comic strip characters in appearance and keeping the action cutting edge with a variety of textures and fluorescent lighting to sustain a tightly spooky, yet still toon like, veneer without being chunky or plastic in appearance.  Frequent collaborators Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit are joined by “Cars’” screenwriter Ben Queen and “The Spy Who Dumped Me’s” Susanna Fogel with a script that hones in on the mad dash, madcap hallmarks of sword fighting, axe-throwing, flame shooting, and monster brawling that makes the Addams family THE Addams family.  The script keeps the action moving as the family traverses across the nation, evading Cyrus’s dissimilar henchmen, while the two Addams children find their place in pre-adolescence with Wednesday battles alienation and Pugsley attempts at wooing the opposite sex, but absent from the script is landed comedy.  Chock-full with slapstick humor, many of the jokes will go over the head of PG youngsters who won’t understanding Pugsley wanting dating advise from a Cousin It’s pimp-like status or the overabundant morbid humor that crosses the line, even for the Addams, with a Donner Party joke and one of the characters actually being killed off by Wednesday.  Considering the PG rating, the two latter bits really stick in the mind of an adult with children.  Also, the script honestly lacks something else, an important staple in Addams grim culture that can be challenging to apprehend if not present, and that is the Addams’s house.  Family and house are separated for nearly the entire duration, leaving the diabolical funhouse as an omitted character lost to the whims of Grandma’s large house party which is scarcely and sorely revisited.  Instead, Thing, who has an eyeball on the wrist by the way (never knew Thing had any sort of optics), and Uncle Fester, with a side-story of him metamorphizing into an octopus as a result Wednesday’s story-opening grandiose (mad) science fair project, drive an ostentatious camper that pales in comparison as the house substitute.

Hitting U.S. theaters nationwide today, October 1st, “The Addams Family 2” is a solid kickstart to the beginning of the Halloween season as a United Artists and MGM distributed release.  The sequel will also be available to rent through the following platforms:  Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, Vudu, DirectTV, Spectrum, Xfinity, and among other digital outlets and pay TV operators.  Aforementioned, the 93 minute, animated feature is rated PG for macabre and rude humor, violence and language with much of the more grave content flying over children’s heads.  Trust me, my 7-year-old and 4-year-old either didn’t understand the references or didn’t catch the intent.   Seeing the kooky antics of the Addams family back in the spotlight keeps the lovable ghoulish characters alive for generations to come, but with “The Addams Family 2” borders being insipid with a trying-to-impress out of the box and unconventional Addams road trip narrative that nearly creates the unthinkable to happen – making the adventurous Addams family a dull bunch.