Edinburgh’s loss, it appears, is London’s gain with the festival ensnaring Scott Graham’s superb Shell (2012), a beautifully rendered, incredibly haunting example of gritty British cinema concocted by a refreshing fusion of intelligence and artistic refinement. Set within the sparse, yet desolately beautiful countryside of the Scottish Highlands, Shell (Chloe Pirrie) is a 17-year-old girl, living with her father, Pete (Game of Thrones’ Joseph Mawle) in a run-down petrol station on an incredibly isolated road where, as Shell states quite nonchalantly: “In the winter we sometimes only see one car a week”. Behind the dishevelled façade of this austere service station lies a complex father/daughter pairing.
Shell and her father work autonomously within this remote garage, yet there’s something quite peculiar about how the pair of them interacts with each other and those who encroach on their terrain. Bound together by their sequestered surroundings, yet emotionally disorientated for some uncertain reason, Shell is a fascinating study of isolation and the affects of loss on a family. From the haunting sound of the wind, to the rolling landscape of the Highlands, rarely has a British independent film looks so sublime. Capturing both the majesty and seclusion of his picturesque surroundings, debutante Graham creates a troubling backdrop of solitude and gaucheness. However, it’s the complex themes that ripple underneath the serene veneer of Shell that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect.
One of the few passing customers who enters Shell’s life gives her a book to keep – The Heart of a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCuller – a novel famous for giving a voice to the forgotten, mistreated and oppressed, a fitting metaphor for our heroine’s lot. Shell’s affection for her father and the lonesome surroundings inspire confused emotions from the audience, is this a tale about the Electra complex, the affects of solitude on the mind or perhaps the lingering repercussions of maternal loss? Either way there’s certainly plenty to take away from this symbolic tale of innocent misdemeanours and social taboos. Shell not only marks the arrival of Graham and Pirrie as two of British cinema’s most promising discoveries, but also acts as a fine example of how an intelligent script and an attention to detail can transcend a meagre budget to create a powerful and engrossing piece of independent cinema.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.