Movie Review: ‘Shelley’ Is Unsatisfying

Review by Lauryn Angel

I love a good horror movie, and those are difficult to find these days. I especially love a horror movie that doesn’t explain everything to the viewer, leaving me to figure out the parts of the story that’s missing. I don’t even mind a horror movie that doesn’t bother to explain anything, as long as it develops good narrative tension or has interesting/disturbing visual effects. Unfortunately, while Ali Abbasi’s Shelley has some of these characteristics, it’s is ultimately not very interesting.

The film opens with Kaspar (Peter Cristoffersen) and Elena (Cosmina Stratan) traveling to an isolated home. Kaspar explains to Elena that his wife, Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is not well, but doesn’t explain exactly what her ailment is. For the most part, Kaspar and Louise live off the grid – they do not have electricity, but they do keep a landline and a car – and they do not eat meat. Elena and Louise immediately bond, and eventually Louise confesses that she is not able to have children, and asks Elena to serve as a surrogate for her and Kaspar. Because Elena needs the money, she agrees, and that’s when the trouble begins. Elena has a difficult pregnancy; nasty physical effects and paranoia convince her that there is something wrong with the baby inside her. Meanwhile, Louise becomes less and less concerned for Elena’s welfare and more obsessed with finally becoming a mother. It’s not exactly clear whether Kaspar and Louise know what’s wrong with the baby – or even if the baby is the cause of Elena’s problems.

Ultimately, the film is unsatisfying. The characters aren’t developed enough for me to really feel invested in the story, and there aren’t enough plot threads to really work out what’s going on — and sometimes the film was just too dark to figure out what was happening on the screen. Maybe I just didn’t get the “pregnancy horror” because I’ve never been pregnant. At any rate, the payoff of the film simply wasn’t enough to justify sitting through the ninety minutes that preceded it.

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