For me Shelley is one of the worse types of horror films, a faux art house bore fest that relies on long silences, affected shots and the odd gratuitous moment to distract the audience from the fact that the script is as thin as toilet paper and only good for the same use.
As you can probably tell Shelley provoked an intensely negative reaction in me at the FrightFest screening and the reason for this was manifold however perhaps most importantly it is due to me being a father. Let me clarify this by giving you an overview of Shelley’s plot or what bare bones there are of it.
Cosmina Stratan (possibly the only bearable thing in the whole movie) plays Elena a young woman who hopes to support her son who is far away with her parents by becoming the housekeeper for rich Swedish couple Louise and Kasper (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Peter Christoffersen) who live an isolated existence by a lake in the middle of nowhere.
Cut off from all mod-cons Elena works the land, tends to the chickens and looks after Louise who is recovering from a miscarriage after finding out she is unable to have children. Becoming extremely close to the couple Louise offers the single mother a deal including a large monetary incentive to carry a child for her so the family can finally be complete.
Happy to help especially as it will solve all her financial woes she agrees but distressingly once inseminated she discovers the pregnancy is wrought with dire illness, disturbing hallucinations and strange events plunging Elena into a state of constant fear of the unborn baby, a fear that she must deal with before the birth.
Now you know what Shelley is about I am sure you are thinking two things firstly hasn’t that story be made a million times before? (Yes it has in Rosemary’s Baby, Born and all the versions of It’s Alive! among other films) and secondly why is the fetus so frightening then?
It is this second question that infuriated me so much being that SPOILERS during the whole of Shelley there is absolutely no explanation as to why the baby is pure evil. This means that what opens as a predictable but potentially creepy horror that could have contained a killer twist (they are Swedish witches, the Dad is the Devil, it’s all just in her head, um aliens, seriously anything would have done!) deteriorates into nonsense as you desperately try to work out why it is all happening.
Coming across as a piece of strange anti-pregnancy propaganda Shelley is full of dumb story points that don’t add up leaving even more questions for anyone paying attention to its lame plotline such as why does no one believe Elena that something is wrong with the baby especially when she has had a kid before?
Did you fall asleep at a key moment, will it all be revealed at the very end, nope it’s all just a pointless waste of time and anyone who says otherwise is desperately searching for meaning and metaphor to fill the void in entertainment and terror this film leaves in you.
This lack of any explanation, message or meaning totally takes away any fear, interest or attachment you may have built up making the third act where, SPOILERS AGAIN the now born baby having dispatched of Elena decides to drive its own father Kasper mad with mind control for no fucking reason, even more worthless and exasperating than the start somehow.
The only conclusion I could draw as I sat getting more and more bored and angry in my seat wishing I was anywhere but in the cinema was that Shelley director and co-writer Ali Abbasi has a major problem with surrogacy, pregnancy and babies. Hell this film just seems to straight up hate women in general being as they are either SORRY MORE SPOILERS ultimately killed by being pregnant or so caught up in their obsession and love for their child they ignore its wicked powerful malevolence the stupid bitches!
Let’s go back a bit shall we to where I said I was a father because I think it’s important to point out that I’m not missing a deeper layer in Shelley being that although I have never and could never experience pregnancy fully I have a pretty good idea what it is like from a male point of view being as I was around for 9 months of it before my son was born.
I’m not about to say the experience is all sunshine and rainbows nowhere near, it is transformative physically, emotionally, mentally spiritually, in fact any -ally you can think of probably will happen during that period and afterwards for a few years with none of it being easy and all of it altering you fundamentally forever more
That’s pretty scary stuff and here is where Shelley fails hardest of all because rather than explore the body horrors of carrying a child or the masculine fears of female fertility or even the huge emotional turmoil of surrogacy we are offered up scene after scene of trite horror clichés peppered with deliberately provocative violence self-inflicted or otherwise on Elena while she carries the baby.
In a mainstream chiller or low budget exploitation film there would be outrage at these moments labeling them crassly manipulative however because Shelley masquerades as arty intelectualised horror calling on Cronenberg and Lynch as inspiration we are supposed to be impressed and write them off to the director challenging our innocent preconceptions and urban moral malaise or something all of which is bullshit of course.
One of the worst films I have seen in a long time due to its immense pretentiousness and fraudulent façade as anything more than trashy grindhouse fodder Shelley offended me as a horror fan, it offended me as a father, it offended me as a human and much like the baby in the story it should have been aborted way before anyone filmed a single shot.
Movie Rating:The 1 is only for Cosmina Stratan who I hope goes on to better things than this crap!