A film is like a jigsaw puzzle. So many pieces often need to come together to create a seamlessly enjoyable film. Horror can sometimes get away with a ridiculous storyline because to watch the film is so much fun. Shelley directed by Ali Abbasi however goes the opposite direction with a terribly mundane storyline but with some fantastic filmic elements littered throughout.
Shelley tells the age old story of ‘evil baby comes to town’. Elena (Cosmina Stratan) is a house keeper in search of extra money for her and her son. She starts working for Louisa and her husband in a remote cabin in the woods. Louisa and her hubby are the type of couple who grow their own food and don’t have electricity in the house. Events and chatter occur and Louisa asks Elena if she will carry their baby with her frozen eggs (for a sizeable sum). In no time at all Elena is pregnant and we start to see the symptoms of a pregnancy which is anything but normal. Whatever is inside of Elena is sucking her body and soul dry.
This plot line is a familiar thread in horror cinema. Of course there is Rosemary’s Baby which also plays on the fears expectant mothers have. Rosemary’s Baby is perfection and it will always be hard for any film – even one thirty odd years later – to compare with the Polanski film. Shelley’s narrative really lets the film down however. The first thirty minutes are slow and captivating due to the extremely strong acting and camera work. The actors are fleshed out characters with wants and needs which carry them through the film and give their actions meaning. I found myself invested in their journey. Yet as the film reached its finale it didn’t go batshit crazy but trickled off, and went on and on with an ending that resembled a whimper.
Apart from that hiccup the film is a beauty to watch. The location is stunning and director Abbasi has a keen eye for strong visuals. Elena’s descent while pregnant is unnerving and disgusting to watch. The film follows the more naturalistic approach to film which is becoming ever more popular in cinema. With only hints to the baby being demonic I wanted the film to follow through to wild consequences. Yet it skirted on the edge never really diving into the deep end.
Shelley to me reminds me of that person you know in your life who is talented but never reached their potential.
SHELLEY is directed by Ali Abbasi and stars Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Cosmina Stratan and Björn Andrésen. It will be in theaters on July 29th courtesy of IFC Midnight.