Welcome to our coverage of this year’s London Film Festival. We’ll be going live with an in-depth review of a specific film that’s playing at this year’s festival daily, while you can keep an eye on our Twitter feed for broader reaction.
Following on from the instantaneous rapture of yesterday’s film in focus, The Hunt, today we take a look at a far more restrained piece of work. Shell, from Scottish writer-director Scott Graham, tells of a young girl who has grown up living in a remote petrol station on the cusp of the Scottish highlands.
Expanded from the director’s own short film of the same name, Shell is very much a mood piece, with Graham layering his tale in atmosphere and style as opposed to plot. Rendered somewhat episodic due to the nature in which things unfold, as regular customers call by for their weekly fill of petroleum, and as tourists break down, the structure of the movie actually encourages the inverse-fractured nature of the situation. Shell refers not to a particular brand of engine fuel, as is referred to humourously several times in the film itself, but instead to the films protagonist. Portrayed by newcomer to the big screen Chloe Pirrin, Shell is an intriguing figure, a reaction to the harsh environment that has surrounded her from childhood made physical. Pirrin handles the demanding role with great skill.
While the ultimate narrative path taken by the protagonist is achingly predictable, the path to get to the resolution is both aesthetically and dramatically pleasing. The structure declares that the secondary performances are cameo-esque in nature, with the wonderful Michael Smiley and Red Road’s Kate Dickie both briefly appearing, while Joseph Mawle comes closest to being a headlining co-star as Shell’s father. Mawle recalls the most intense performances of John Hawkes, with his troubled and interior father making for a fascinating figure. The aesthetics, the product of a combination of sleek digital photography and the harsh but beautiful landscapes of the Scottish highlands ensure that this slightest of tales unfolds in a startling manner, ensuring that Graham’s feature film debut is one well worth seeking out.