Competing in the First Feature Competition at the BFI London Film Festival is Scott Graham’s assured and quietly devastating film SHELL, which takes minimalism to tender and shatteringly nuanced extremes. Chloe Pirrie, a great new talent, plays Shell, a 17-year-old woman who lives and works at a petrol station in the desolate Scottish Highlands. With only her reserved and softly spoken father for company, Shell lives out a discreet day-to-day life, welcoming infrequent passers by and conversing with the occasional regular customers, all the while doting on her introverted father, Pete (Joseph Mawle).
Shell begins to struggle when events conspire to rupture her family life – forcing father and daughter to make some difficult decisions.
Deserted by her mother at an early age, Shell has established an unflashy existence with her father, their mutual understanding and deep-rooted affection burdened by emotional transgression and dependency. Shell has been home schooled and cuts a desperately sheltered figure, a girl who has grown up too fast in a climate that holds very little for her, though she of course doesn’t know any better. Sitting at the top of a blustery hill (rendered ever more barren by some stunningly artistic cinematography), the diminutive stall is embedded in an achingly vast location, as much a metaphor for loneliness as the merchandise that sits untouched on the shop shelves. Unwilling to break away from her stilted existence, and embrace the life she doesn’t know she deserves, Shell begins to struggle when events conspire to rupture her family life – forcing father and daughter to make some difficult decisions.
SHELL is a work of haunting brilliance, with Graham displaying a penchant for balancing emotive performances with a story that teases out drama from a wind-swept setting. Graham’s treatment of physical and emotional turmoil, isolation and humanity evoke the work of Lynne Ramsay, another Scottish filmmaker whose cinema concocts haunting sound and image to almost dumbfounding perfection. Regimented and taut, SHELL tells a deceptively miniscule story whose searing, emotive and naked performances save it from being too downbeat.