Shelley (2016) by Ali Abbasi


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"Shelley" is a Danish horror film released in 2016, directed by Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi. The film tells the story of a Romanian maid named Elena, who becomes the surrogate mother for a wealthy Danish couple, Louise and Kasper, who are unable to have children. As the pregnancy progresses, Elena begins to experience strange and unsettling changes in her body, and she becomes convinced that the child growing inside her is not a normal human baby.
The film explores themes of motherhood, female exploitation, and the consequences of playing god through reproductive technology. The cinematography and sound design are both highly effective in creating a sense of creeping dread and unease, with the use of low-angle shots and ominous music adding to the sense of foreboding.


The film's pacing is deliberately slow, with the tension building gradually over the course of the film's runtime. The performances of the three leads - Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Louise, Cosmina Stratan as Elena, and Peter Christoffersen as Kasper - are all excellent, with each actor bringing a sense of nuance and depth to their roles. While "Shelley" is undoubtedly a horror film, it also has a strong element of social commentary, with the film's depiction of the exploitation of female migrant workers and the dangerous consequences of reproductive technology making it a thought-provoking and socially relevant work.
One of the strengths of the film is its slow-burn approach to horror. The tension is built gradually, and the audience is kept in the dark about the true nature of the horror until the final act. The atmosphere of the film is also effectively eerie and unsettling, with the isolated setting of the house and the naturalistic cinematography adding to the sense of unease.
Another strong point of the film is the acting, with all three main actors delivering strong performances. Cosmina Stratan, in particular, does an excellent job of conveying the character's confusion and fear as she becomes increasingly aware of the dangers she is facing. However, the film is not without its flaws. The pacing can be slow at times, and some viewers may find the lack of answers and resolution frustrating. Additionally, some of the horror elements feel derivative of other horror films, and the film does not bring much new to the genre.


Overall, "Shelley" is a well-crafted and highly effective horror film that also manages to tackle complex social issues with skill and nuance. Its deliberate pacing and slow burn approach may not be to everyone's taste, but for those willing to invest in the film's atmosphere and themes, it is a rewarding and unsettling experience.