Shell Movie Review
With a remarkably vivid sense of life in rural Scotland, this tightly contained drama is an impressive debut for writer-director Graham. There isn't much dialog, and yet the filmmaker is able to evoke a strong sense of internal urgency within the characters. And in the demanding title role, newcomer Pirrie is magnetic.
Shell (Pirrie) is a 17-year-old girl who lives with her father Pete (Mawle) at their roadside petrol garage in the middle of nowhere along a highway through the Highlands. Devoted to caring for her dad, who has epilepsy, Shell knows all the customers, including a slightly too-friendly businessman (Smiley) who travels through here regularly. And Pete and Shell are willing to help stranded travellers, such as a couple (Dickie and Hickey) that needs help when they run into a deer on the road. Meanwhile, nice local guy Adam (De Caestecker) wants to take Shell away from here, but the thought of that triggers slightly too-affectionate feelings about her dad.
The film is a marvel of tiny details, as Shell and Pete communicate without the need for many words. And Graham's cameras capture every sideways glance, hint of a smile, light touch and uncomfortable scowl to let us see how isolated this father and daughter are from the rest of civilisation. This style of interaction creates tension that sometimes feels rather dangerous. For example, after Pete takes a trip into town, Shell sniffs him like a jealous wife. Yes, these are raw performances that are often unnerving. And since we see everything through Pirrie's expressive, haunted, hopeful eyes, we can't help but be drawn into her world.
The film is a remarkable combination of scenes that are tender, thoughtful and occasionally terrifying. Graham captures the setting so effectively that the expansive landscape feels oddly claustrophobic. Cinematographer Yoliswa Gartig shoots the film beautifully, contrasting the expressive faces with surrounding mountains and valleys, over which hangs a relentlessly grey sky. In other words, this is like a place that time forgot, a stop on the way somewhere more important, and the only life Shell has ever known. So of course she's thinking of heading down the road herself.
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