I scoff sometimes when I hear about another film about a sociopathic killer. It’s not that it’s a bad subject. There are plenty of fantastic films with a premise surrounding that very type of character. I scoff because we live in a murder fascinated society. I think the study of sociopathic serial killers is important, but American culture is obsessed with it...
...My wife is a part of the ‘Murderino’ movement of sorts, and I don’t criticize her for it, but I do challenge her and others to question why they’ve taken an obsessive interest in it. When there’s too much of anything in popular culture, there’s always a flood of profiteering behind it, and naturally so. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be money to be made from films, TV and Books that deal with the topic of murder. However, as a film fan, it takes a lot to impress me when there’s a film exploring murder and sociopathy related subjects. Not every film is going to be cinema gold like Natural Born Killers (1994) or American Psycho (2000). Jourdan McClure, director of the new film, Shepard, has crafted a respectable film that not only impressed me, but deserves to be spoken in the same breath as the aforementioned classics.
Shepard doesn’t waste much time getting started. We meet Ray (Kurt Krause) who has been tossed around several abusive foster homes until an incident that gets him into trouble has him appointed to live with his Aunt Sherry (Thea Gill) and cousin Kim (Paulina Alvarez). Ray is a shy teenager, who has been through a significant amount of abuse. He tries to fit in at his new school but has a negative altercation with Kim’s boyfriend. A man named Shepard (Will Beinbrink) witnesses the event and helps Ray come to terms with his bully and what he should do about it. They both share a similar past of continuous neglect and abuse. Desperately seeking approval and guidance, Ray accepts Shepard’s help but soon things spiral out of control and Ray cannot undo the damage that has been done. I won’t say who and how, but emotional instability and murder play a large role in the film. Nature and nurture are heavy themes that get explored with poignancy rather than what could have been very heavy handed.
Shepard is the kind of film that utilizes every second of every frame to effectively tell a good story. There’s no fluff or unnecessary scenes that bog down the pacing. Clocking in at a breezy 71 minutes, the film is expertly paced. Scenes don’t drag on longer than they should and the sequence of events leading to the climax feels natural and not mechanical in any way. Kurt Krause gives a powerhouse of a performance and not in the way that you might think I mean. You may see Ray raise his voice once, but the beauty of Kurt’s performance is the withheld rage within him. He walks with his shoulders slumped over and his head down and even when unspeakable things happen to him, he remains calm, but little hints give off the feeling that he’s disturbed and there may be rage hiding behind his mild manners and quiet demeanor. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt this much sympathy, even empathy for a character. You just want to reach through the screen and give him a big hug. Will Beinbrink is no slouch either. He is electrifying to watch as he charms Ray and eventually disturbs him. Everyone is on top of their game in the film and it helps that they’ve been written like real people. Screenwriter Philip Landa has crafted a tight script that manages to say a lot of things and evoke a wide range of emotions in a short period of time.
I was engaged from minute one all the way to end. That’s where I think the film falters a bit, though. I don’t need every film I watch to end with resolution, but the end of Shepard made me question if they just didn’t know how to end it, so they incorporated an ending that logically makes sense, but doesn’t offer the viewer any closure or finality to the story. I won’t spoil the ending, but it ends with a situation that obviously has a scene to be finished when it cuts to black. It feels like an incomplete story. That being said, it’s not a terrible ending. It does make sense. I just wish we were given a little more closure to the situation and maybe a few clues to ponder over. I was also put off by the upbeat rock song they chose for the end credits. It’s at odds with the melancholic, sensitive tones that are felt throughout the whole film. It’s a mostly humorless film but it feels appropriate for what the film is conveying. Had it been more cynical in tone, it may have been more appropriate to end with such music, but it just doesn’t fit here. That being said, endings don’t ruin movies for me and this one is no different. Shepard is still an incredible film.
Shepard impressed me immensely. It’s a film that explores murder and the chaos and emotional instability that come with it. It’s slightly cautionary without being preachy, which I really respect it for. It doesn’t deal with situations and feelings in a black and white way. Life isn’t like that and neither are the events and themes of this movie. I got a real sense of reverence for the subject of murder, bullying and where the line is drawn. It’s not perfect and it has a lackluster ending that is sure to be divisive, but Shepard is a provocative film with a level of sincerity that is rarely seen in horror cinema.
Follow Shepard when it releases on Digital/VOD on March 10th from Gravitas Ventures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth