Shell Review

Bleak and unrelenting, Shell is a tour de cinematic force.

Starring Chloe Pirrie as the titular character Shell, a performance that’s seen her shortlisted for best British newcomer, and directed by Scott Graham, Shell tells the story of a father and daughter living on the edges of society.

Shell and her father Pete, brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Mawle, run a gas station come chop shop besides a loch in the wild Scottish highlands.

They live in a timeless, static world of harsh winds and freezing nights as they navigate life on the outskirts of society and forge relationships in a world defined by what’s absent.

With very little to cling to besides each other, an incestuous relationship bubbles just below the surface as Shell seeks some sort of romance amongst the rubble and ruins of shattered dreams and windshields.

Trucks rumble past in the dead of night and several customers come and go, but we remain with Shell, statically sealed within the gas station and the immediate area around it.

Graham’s film pivots on an early scene where Shell and her father are called to an accident in the dead of night. Finding a wreck of a car caused by a stray deer, Shell kills the animal before helping the family and heading back home.

Later that night though, Shell awakens to find a deer standing outside her window. Both a symbol of freedom and death, the deer becomes a catalyst for Shell to re-imagine her role within her own family and her life in general.

This event transforms Shell from a girl into a young woman, a role she struggles to comprehend as a sense of claustrophobia out amongst the open sky begins to creep in.

The sparseness of Graham’s cinematic world is entrancing.

Shell’s lack of dialogue, coupled with subtly dramatic acting, opens up many possibilities; namely is this real or is this purgatory?

Travellers on the road become personifications of Shell and her mother, their very existence within our reality questionable.

Is Shell seeing herself in the mother that comes to their gas station seeking a bathroom for her daughter, or is her father seeing Shell in the little girl or are they even there at all?

In these sparse surroundings, such complex characters stand out in sharp contrast to this canvas as they enact their über-emotive human roles.

The cinematography is rendered in muted browns, beiges and greys; imagine milky coffee spilled on old lace and this feeling seeps into the dialogue so that you find yourself transported to a world stripped of all embellishments.

The sound design of Shell is incredibly potent. Free from music, the sound-scape of this desolate enclave, takes centre stage; particularly the sounds of water and rain that almost become characters themselves.

Brilliantly shot and edited, Graham does a great job of pacing his film so, while deliberately slow, it’s never boring.

Instead, freed from the clutter of the conventional world, Shell is both mystical and highly symbolic as it artfully straddles the divide between reality and fiction.

Shelton Lindsay

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