We all need friends—someone who can peek past the curtains of our public facade and see the real us. Making a new friend is an exciting thing. That spark of connection when you discover a kindred spirit can be intoxicating. “They get me,” you think. But what makes two people friends? Is it a shared experience? Similar backgrounds? Can you always be sure you know what another person sees in you?
At the beginning of SHEPARD, Ray (Kurt Krause) is in need of a good friend. A tough kid with a bad past, Ray’s life has been anything but easy. While it’s never explicitly expressed, it’s pretty clear this teen has seen the inside of more than one juvenile institution. And whatever landed him there has left him on thin ice with the courts.
After the passing of his mother, Ray is sent to live with Sherry (Thea Gill) and her daughter Kim (Paulina Alvarez), a kind family who are possibly related to Ray although that’s never clearly defined. Sherry encourages Kim to help Ray make friends. But unfortunately for Ray, Kim’s boyfriend Eric (Reed Michael Campbell) has other plans.
Later that evening, Ray joins Eric, Kim, and their friends for a trip to the liquor/convenience store. While the rest of the crew trickle out the front door, Eric is caught attempting to steal a bottle of liquor. Never the one to take the fall, Eric slaps the bottle into Ray’s hands and runs for it as the cashier advances on them with a baseball bat. Just when it looks like Ray is going to get clobbered, another customer punches the employee, laying him out flat. With a cold grimace, the stranger (Will Beinbrink) removes the security camera, grabs a six-pack, and heads out the door, leaving his wallet behind.
As the days go by, the torture Ray receives at Eric’s hands keeps getting worse, and there is no end in sight. Is there anyone who can help him? Just when it seems like all hope is lost, Ray remembers the stranger in the liquor store. Why did that man help him? And if Ray can track him down, would the stranger be willing to help him again?
SHEPARD is a methodical little thriller with a tight runtime of just over one hour. Director Jourdan McClure and writer Philip Landa are relative newcomers to big-league filmmaking, with just a handful of credits to their names, and they should be applauded for their hard work on this film. Making a feature is no small feat, and these two have done a commendable job.
I’d like to give a special shout out to actor Reed Michael Campbell for his performance as the insufferable bully Eric. His spirited and committed performance brought fresh energy to every scene he was in. And that energy was much needed because while SHEPARD was entertaining, its consistently measured pacing started to drag the film down by the end of the first act.
I’m all for movies taking their time. However, there’s nothing wrong with spicing things up from scene to scene. SHEPARD is a movie about a young man struggling to overcome a painful past while battling a hostile present. And while the reflective part of Ray’s journey was spot on in its measured approach, the scenes that required increasing tension fell flat. I think this largely could have been fixed with an adjustment to the directorial approach. While the story tells us that the stakes are getting raised, the actors’ choices don’t. Even in scenes where the emotional stakes are high, the hushed dialogue includes huge pauses that diffuse all that potential energy tension.
It’s always fun to see new talent like McClure, Landa, and Campbell get the chance to bring new stories to the screen, and I’m looking forward to watching all three of them continue to grow over the years. SHEPARD releases March 10, 2020, in Digital HD on your favorite streaming On Demand platforms.