by Vassilis Economou

During recent years a new generation of British filmmakers has emerged. They have already been acclaimed at many film festivals and their films are mainly focused on social issues and problematic families. The newest member of this wave is Scott Graham, whose debut feature film just premiered in competition at Torino Film Festival. The film has been based on his homonymous short film from 2007.

The story takes place in an isolated area of the Scottish highlands. Shell (Chloe Pirrie) is 17 years old and lives with her dad Pete (Joseph Mawle). They have a petrol station where Shell works all day. Pete is a serviceman and also does the entire extra work for both of them. Their secluded home is near a local forest. They only have two regular customers, Hugh (Michael Smiley) who’s a salesman and young Adam (Iain De Caestecker) who is working at a lumberjack company. One night a couple knocks on their door since they just hit a deer with their car. The deer becomes a symbol of freedom for Shell and after its death; she will change her ideas, her choices, and ultimately her life. The dead animal haunts her from that point on.

Shell is the center of interest, everyone is looking for her and she is their outlet for expressing their emotions. She feels so special and different, like a precious real shell found in a forest. Hugh has a crush on her and Adam wants her as his girlfriend. Shell is indifferent towards them since she has already some latent incestuous feelings for her own father. It’s no mistake that there is almost a complete lack of other female roles in the film. Shell’s mother went missing when she was 4 years old and no one has been able to fill the gap ever since. This creates a strange but somehow inevitable bond of affection between her and her father.

Graham is following the footsteps of his compatriot Lynne Ramsay. He builds a slow paced kitchen sink drama with the fewest actors possible. Dialogue is minimal, there is always a distance amongst characters. No character feels close to each other, and when this does happen it is always for the worst. Instead of words, Graham prefers a more realistic point of view, focusing on nature’s sounds such as the highland wind. Graham lists Andrei Tarkovsky as the most important influence on his filmmaking. Unfortunately this is only apparent in the spectacular cinematography by Yoliswa Gärtig. The story evolves slowly and has almost no dramatic peaks until the very end. As a debut, this film seems promising for the work to come. It is a visually memorable film that would need a more precise and disciplined approach to narrative in order to impress.

Director: Scott Graham
Producers: Margaret Matheson, Helge Albers, David Smith
Screenplay: Scott Graham
Cinematography: Yoliswa Gärtig
Cast: Chloe Pirrie, Kate Dickie, Joseph Mawle, Iain De Caestecker, Michael Smiley, Morven Christie
TIFF 30 International Competition


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