September 14, 2016 Shelley (Movie Review)
For many couples, the desire to have a family of their own is strong, and they are able to embark on the journey of building such. However, it is not always easy for all couples to fulfill this dream naturally. New Denmark Horror film Shelley focuses on a couple unable to have their own children, and what it costs them. Debuting at the Berlin International Film Festival back in February, Shelley has been accessible in a variety of other countries and received a limited release in the USA this past July 29th via IFC Midnight. Now available for purchase domestically in The States, Shelley is an English/Danish collaboration where much of the film is spoken in English, with the remainder containing relevant subtitles.
The story begins with Elena (Cosmina Stratan: Ramai cu mine 2013-2014, Les territoires du silence 2015), a maid and carer from Bucharest, Romania who has accepted a carer/maid position to care for Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen: Troubled Water 2008, Acquitted TV series). After suffering a late term miscarriage, Louise’s reproductive organs had to be removed, and her recovery will take several weeks. Louise and her husband, Kasper (Peter Christoffersen: The Bridge TV series, The Absent One 2014), live in complete isolation in the midst of a forest, relying solely on subsistence. Due to Elena’s incompatibility with electricity, a generator is used, but they do have a land line.
In a few days, Elena adjusts to the simple existence, and a friendship forms between her and Louise. Louise learns Elena has a son of her own, and she is saving up to buy an apartment for them both, which will take her around three years. Louise and Kasper approach Elena about carrying their child. In exchange, she would be paid sufficient money to buy an apartment at the end of the pregnancy, an offer she finds too good to refuse. Almost immediately, Elena becomes pregnant, and the bond between her and Louise grows. Louise’s unusual beliefs, and friendship with Leo (Bjorn Andresen: A Swedish Love Story 1970, Spring Tide TV series) confuses Elena, but she brushes it aside.
For the first trimester, Elena maintains good health, but as the pregnancy progresses, her health and mental state deteriorate. Louise ensures Elena continues her doctors visits and takes excellent care of her, but despite this, Elena becomes unbalanced. Her hair begins to fall out in clumps, she develops an uncontrollable rash, and sleeps for long periods. At some point, Elena is convinced the baby is trying to kill her, which drives her to take extreme measures. No matter what, Louise will do whatever it takes ensure her child survives.
Shelley is a simmering, tightly-wound Psychological Horror. While there are few wham-bam Horror moments, it is what the viewer does not see which intrigues the most. The quiet, isolated setting combined with the absence of normal household activity, creates a creepy, unsettled feel. The small cast carry the entire plot without relying on special effects and strange creatures. Rather, the story is told through gifted portrayal of the character’s emotion, using succinct dialogue and clever scene selection. The cinematography by Nadim Carlsen (The Day After 2009, Mommy 2014), and Sturla Brandth Grovlen (Venus 2010, The 11th Hour 2014), likewise captures the mystery feel, adding another layer of depth and fascination.
The story of Shelley amps up towards the end, but it does not tie things up in a neat little bow. This will not please those viewers who like everything resolve at the completion of a film, because it leaves just as many questions as answers. However, this aside, there is a great deal of nuance and subtle hints throughout the film to suggest, and allow the viewer to decide what happened for themselves. Without a doubt, by the end of the film, Louise’s maternal instincts resound through every scene. Sure to send a chill down everyone’s spine, Shelley is a clever use of film, and a welcome flashback to days of past when plot overrode effects, and people thought for themselves. A must watch more than once for all fans of deeper, Psychological Horror, CrypticRock gives Shelley 4 out of 5 stars.