Scandinavian horror is on a roll with Shelley as a sinister addition to the New Nordic films – but don’t worry, almost all the dialogue is in English.
There’s so much beauty and light at the beginning of Shelley, but all that changes once you pay attention. The sounds and emotions portrayed are pretty grimm, which is in stark contrast to the lightness and beauty of the surroundings.
Also, there’s an amazing relationship between the two main characters, Louise and Elena. Even though Elena is working for Louise, there’s a clear sense of her being a part of the household. Louise has just had a miscarriage (and subsequently had to have a hysterectomy), so she truly needs help from Elena.
Elena is embracing the very strange living circumstances – out in the middle of a forrest, with no electricity or running water – but lets it be known that she thinks it’s very strange. It’s a wonderfully direct and honest communication, which means a mutual respect is quick to develop. Louise always wanted kids and hates that Elena has to be away from her son, so she offers Elena a quick way to earn a lot of money: Become a surrogate for Louise and her husband Kasper. Elena agrees and all is well, as the pregnancy is a success… but then everything changes.
Elena becomes very sick. She can’t hold down food, finds it impossible to sleep and keeps clawing at herself. She becomes convinced that whatever is in her womb, is trying to kill her. Louise is completely torn, as she battles with herself; She feels for the visible broken Elena, but also want her child to grow strong and be born. The way the story unfolds in Shelley is very elegant, and especially the visual style supports this. From the carefree sun-filled days to the dark forces pulling at everyone involved.
I won’t give away any more details, but I will say that a lot of the supporting characters are a big part of the story. Still, the characters of Louise and Elena carry the story and really, I loved every scene with them.
The light and beauty of the beginning turns downright sinister
There’s no doubt that the stars of Shelley are Ellen Dorrit Petersen (Louise) and Cosmina Stratan (Elena). Petersen is actually Norwegian – and speaks Norwegian in this movie (it irks me that everyone keeps saying they’re a Danish married couple) – and starred in Blind from 2014, which was received extremely well and won a lot of awards. Romanian Cosmina Stratan is no stranger to awards either, as she won Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival in 2012 for Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills.
I was surprised to learn that Shelley is actually a feature film debut for director, Ali Abbasi. Abbasi was born in Iran in 1981, but moved to Stockholm in 2002 and graduated from the Danish Film School in 2011. Shelley also features actors from both Denmark, Norway and Sweden along with Stratan from Romania, of course, so this is truly a cross-border project. The script for Shelley was written by Abbasi, as well, but in cooperation with Maren Louise Käehne, who has quite a few Danish successes (and awards) under her belt already.
Shelley is out on VOD and limited release in the US, while still playing film festivals worldwide – including at FrightFest in the UK this month.
Director: Ali Abbasi
Writer: Ali Abbasi, Maren Louise Käehne
Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Cosmina Stratan, Björn Andrésen, Peter Christoffersen
Louise and Kasper want to become parents but Louise is unable to have children. She seals a pact with her Romanian maid, Elena, to bear Louise’s child, but things don’t turn out as they planned.