Adapted from his own six-year-old short film, writer and director Scott Graham’s directorial debut Shell is a quiet piece that pits its two main characters – father and daughter Pete (Joseph Mawle) and Shell (Chloe Pirrie) – against the beautiful, yet harsh and lonely backdrop of the Scottish Highlands and observes how they live, interact and survive the difficult environment that envelopes them.
17-year-old Shell lives with her single father Pete at a roadside petrol garage in the middle of nowhere. It’s somewhere she’s spent her life and has developed bonds with the local customers, including Hugh (Michael Smiley) and local guy Adam (Iain De Caestecker). Her life, however, is devoted to her epileptic father, who spends the days scrapping cars – a situation that noticeably troubles him.
There’s little narrative to speak of in Shell, with Graham instead focusing his attention on the more subtle moments of interaction between the characters, whether it’s the slight touch of a hand or differing body language, and the day-to-day routine that Pete and Shell have become lodged in. Their intense and uncomfortable closeness is captured wonderfully by Graham’s understated camerawork.
The cinematography, too, which is shot to perfection by Yoliswa Gartig, succeeds in telling Pete and Shell’s story through poetic imagery, keeping the dialogue to a soft murmur. Their fractured existence is instead reflected through the unpredictable, seemingly boundless landscape that stretches for miles and miles in every direction and the ever-changing weather that pushes and pulls them apart.
It’s a technique that not only speaks wonders for Graham’s skill as an up-and-coming director, but also for his ability to relinquish some of his powers to the other areas that make up Shell’s stunning, unsettling and emotionally charged whole, being the raw performances from Mawle and Pirrie that compliment the overall mood effortlessly or the distraught ending that intensely shatters the habitual.