out of Five
Running time: 90
Engaging and intense coming-of-age drama that marks out both actress Chloe Pirrie and writer-director Scott Graham as future British talents to watch.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Scott Graham (who expanded his short of the same name), Shell stars newcomer Chloe Pirrie as 17 year old Shell, who runs a remote petrol station in the Scottish highlands with her father, Pete (Joseph Mawle). Aside from a few regulars (including a brilliantly cast Michael Smiley), Shell has almost no contact with the outside world and her close-knit, mutually dependent relationship with Pete becomes increasingly disturbing.
Chloe Pirrie is terrific as Shell; her awkward, gangly physicality making it immediately clear that her emotional maturity is somewhat lagging behind her physical development. Joseph Mawle is equally good, throwing himself into strenuous physical labour (stripping down a car and stripping down a deer in two nicely paralleled scenes) and increasingly withdrawing as a way to avoid physical contact with his daughter, though brought down in that respect by his dependence on her due to his epilepsy.
There's also superb support from Michael Smiley (heartbreaking in his attempts to forge a connection with Shell) and from Iain de Caestecker as her would-be boyfriend Adam, who lives relatively nearby and is stuck in a similar situation. On top of that, the film is beautifully shot, with Yoliswa Gärtig's striking cinematography making strong use of the remote locations (the garage doesn't actually exist, incidentally, so don't go looking for it).
Crucially, Graham makes the wise decision to hold off on revealing any details of what may or may not have happened in the past, allowing the audience to fill in Shell and Pete's backstory for themselves. Similarly, the script goes in for some fairly heavy animal symbolism (the animal wrangling is particularly impressive), but stops just short of bashing you over the head with it.
Indeed, the only real flaw with the film is that the ending, while suitably dramatic, feels like a bit of a cop-out and fails to satisfy on an emotional level, to the point where you'll find yourself exploring alternative ending options in your head afterwards.
The ending may not work for everyone, but Shell is still a powerfully emotional coming-of-age drama that's worth seeing for a terrific central performance from newcomer Chloe Pirrie. Recommended.