It’s one more movie from the 2016 Fantasia Film Festival, and here’s me hoping it won’t be the last.
Shelley is another low key horror film (yes I know, “low key” is going to end up being a category soon). This one is focused on pregnancy and early motherhood. Director Ali Abbasi brings us a slow descent into horror, with a minimalistic and rural ambience and small but strong cast. Elena (Cosmina Stratan) agrees to care for the country house of Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and Kasper (Peter Kristoffersen) before she learns she must leave the comforts of modern life behind. When Elena wants to charge her phone and gets told that there’s no electricity, that definitely sounded like a horror film to me.
Elena is a single mother, she’s saving up to buy her own place. Her first meeting with Louise is awkward. Louise seems to be recovering, and soon enough we learn she’s had problems giving birth. As Elena gets used to her new life, she gets close with Louise. Finally, Louise opens up to her about having children and lets her know she’s had some of her eggs frozen. A proposition is made. Elena will be inseminated so she can give birth to the couple’s child and Louise and Kasper will put in a substantial amount of money for Elena’s home.
The nightmares start as Elena feels something wrong is growing inside her. Not even local aura healer Leo (Björn Andrésen)’s intervention seems to help. Elena seems ready to weather it all, but starts feeling annoyed at Louise’s protectiveness. Of course this is not going to end up well. By the third act, we’ll get to meet Shelley, the newborn daughter.
Continuing what seems to be a trend this year for slow burn (I can’t bring myself to say low key again) horror films at Fantasia, director Ali Abbasi takes us on a slow and quiet ride where horror is a hush and a thought. The beautiful countryside becomes another character in this silent nightmare of a story. Horror audiences expecting action will be disappointed, as well as fans of special effects. There are very few and very subtle and hardly anything will jump at you.
Highs: Disturbing and disquieting but very still might describe this intimate horror story in which effects and violence are hindered to almost drops. Horror comes from realizations and strong performances but the turmoil never seems to shake its surface too much. At no point in time does the plot feel like you need to hate any of its characters. That is a considerable feat and seems almost impossible in a horror movie plot with a small cast.
Lows: Might be too quiet even to the point of frustration. The story takes its time setting up the rapport between Elena and Louise until we can believe their bonding and feel empathy for both. By the time the third act hits, the movie starts to feel a little longer than it should. The ending doesn’t carry much of an impact nor twist.
Recommended for fans of alternative horror, and horror movie fans willing to see a movie without gore and chainsaws. The slow pace works if you let it, but younger horror fans will not sit quietly through the entire film. Too bad, it’s something to be seen although it might never make you jump out of your seat.
That will do for now.