Bad Shepherd So Close to Being Great

February 23, 2024

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2 ½ stars

Four friends driving to a remote hunting lodge hit a woman who was walking on the side of the road. While checking to see if she is dead (she is), they discover that the duffle bag she had with her is full of money. Millions. 

What are they going to do?

Directed by Geo Santini from a script by Ryan David Jahn, The Bad Shepherd doesn’t waste any time trying to let the audience get to know the four guys so they can prejudge who they think will do the “right thing.” Instead, it drops you into their mess and lets the chaos begin, giving the film a frenetic energy that quickly grows unnerving. Sides are chosen, then rechosen. Loyalties are tested, then obliterated. Civilized behavior tries to raise its head, but it’s hacked off. It’s brutal but thrilling.

Just when you’re ready to hit pause and catch your breath, a wild card named Sidney (played by Santini) shows up to raise the stakes for the hunters and the audience. Looking like a slick New York mobster, Sidney tells the four men, in no uncertain terms, that the money is his and he wants it back. He doesn’t explain who he is or how he knows so much about the four guys, including some very intimate details they didn’t know about each other. He’s very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, with just the right amount of threat in his voice to let them know that if he doesn’t get the money, people will die. 

And die is what they do, but not in any way you could predict. As a director, Santini does a great job of building tension in The Bad Shepherd, partly through a director’s usual bag of tricks – music, editing, camera movement – and partly by just sitting back and letting his cast, including himself, do their job. There’s no showboating in The Bad Shepherd; nobody tries to ‘act’ like they’re scared, angry, or a psycho ready to kill anybody in their way. It all happens very naturally, very believably. And very, very intensely.

But then something happens. There’s a big twist to the story, which ruins everything. It’s not just that the twist comes out of nowhere; it adds nothing but the twist to a story that was doing fine without it. 


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