Elena (Cosmina Stratan) goes to work as a maid deep in the country for reclusive couple Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and Kasper (Björn Andrésen). She instantly bonds with Louise and, feeling sorry for the fact that they can’t have children, agrees to become a surrogate. The pregnancy starts off well, but as it develops it seems that something isn’t quite right. Elena finds herself constantly exhausted, sickeningly underweight, and hanging onto her sanity by a thread. Will her and the baby survive the nine months?
It’s been a while since we’ve had a great pregnancy-centred horror movie and Shelley is a valiant effort. The tension builds up nicely, and the film as a whole is brilliantly atmospheric. It also somehow manages to feel like autumn. This is achieved effectively through a combination of the colour palette and atmosphere.
The score and sound designs in the film are beautiful. The score dreams up an air of mystery whilst the sound design perfectly captures all the noises that come with an old house. The banging and creaks aren’t played for scares, but rather aid the naturalistic feel of the film.
The dynamic between the two females is strong and morphs several times throughout the narrative; the performances are engaging and nuanced. Startan’s portrayal of Elena’s decline from being spirited and full of life to a dried out husk of a woman is compelling and emotional. Petersen also does a marvellous job with Louise, a woman driven to desperation by her desire to be a mother. She definitely appears to be channelling her inner Jessica Lange and the result is a very powerful performance.
Where Shelley falls down, is in the story. We go so far in one direction before it abruptly switches to something rather different. It’s confusing and a tad unnecessary if we’re honest. The second narrative strand is confined to the last twenty minutes of the movie and it makes things muddled and confused. It’s a shame, as the first hour is a haunting and engrossing story that embraces the darkest moments of pregnancy.
The plights of the pregnant woman have rarely looked so scary or daunting on screen. Expectant mothers should probably give this one a wide-berth. Shelley in a intriguing and atmosphere tale grounded with naturalistic sounds and powerful performances.
Shelley arrives on DVD and Digital Download from Monday 10th October.