Frances Taylor, Office Manager at Picturehouse HQ, lends her thoughts on next week’s Discover Tuesday title SHELL.
Set in the Scottish Highlands, SHELL is the first feature film from writer-director Scott Graham.
Shell (Chloe Pirrie, Black Mirror) is 17 and works in a petrol station with Pete (Joseph Mawle, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER). He silently fixes up cars or sells them for scrap, while she fixes supper and holds his head while he has fits. She doesn’t go to school any more, and her mother has left her.
SHELL follows the ambiguous relationship between Shell and Pete as they eke out their day-to-day existence in taciturn familiarity. Their claustrophobic lives are punctuated by returning customers, such as lonely, divorced Hugh (Michael Smiley, KILL LIST) and young sawmill worker Adam (Iain De Caestecker, IN FEAR), as they slide towards an uncomfortable, unavoidable tipping point.
Pirrie gives a great performance as Shell: she is able to hold the screen without swathes of dialogue, communicating a great deal with just a look. She’s subtle and powerful, capturing Shell’s fettered, complex inner life. Her interactions with Hugh and Adam are uncomfortably awkward, with silent gaps to squirm through. Mawle is also great as conflicted and co-dependent Pete, leading his agoraphobic life against the backdrop of the expansive, open Highlands.
Shell and Pete are afraid of the future but unable to keep going in the present. Their fraught stalemate is quietly frantic with power plays and passive aggression. And yet both are sympathetic characters: while they are not always likeable, Graham doesn’t invite us to judge them, and their predicament is understandable. I found myself yearning for a happy ending for everyone – especially Adam, who is caught up in a situation he knows nothing about.
Graham’s direction is deft; he keeps his film taut, and the tension is well paced. In the bleak, barren landscape, he has an eye for detail: images such as a close-up of a dying deer, or the empty chewing-gum racks in the shop, are laden with significance without bogging them down.
SHELL is an understated, unassuming film, with beautiful cinematography and standout performances from the two leads. The plot tackles loneliness, dependence and fear of change. It’s affecting without being preachy or judgmental, and will linger long after you leave the screen.