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From Danish director, Ali Abbasi, comes a movie full of dark atmosphere and truly frightening moments. Akin to Rosemary’s Baby, this movie has the feeling of old school terror; it’s slow building and filled with dread.
When Elena (Cosmina Stratan), a young Romanian woman, comes to work for Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and Kasper (Peter Christoffersen), a young Danish couple living off the grid in the countryside, it’s just as a housekeeper. Eventually though, Elena and Louise become friends and Louise opens up to Elena that she and Kasper have been trying to have a child and their most recent attempt ended in a miscarriage. Now Louise isn’t able to have children at all. Elena is sympathetic and agrees to be a surrogate for the couple after Louise offers to compensate her by paying for an apartment for her when she returns home, something she desperately wants so she can be with her son who is waiting for her back home. That being said, she also wants to do it for Louise simply because they have become friends and so the process goes underway and Elena gets pregnant with Louise and Kasper’s baby right away. Everything is fine at first but slowly, troubling signs start presenting themselves. Elena starts getting rashes and having bizarre and frightening hallucinations. As these symptoms become worse Elena becomes convinced that the baby growing inside her is something more sinister altogether.
Shelley is definitely a slow burner and it isn’t something that will keep you planted to your seat because of the non-stop action but what it lacks in jump scares and plot twists it more than makes up for in atmosphere and tension. The remote location is used to its best advantage here and the cinematography is really beautiful and is used to highlight the isolation.
This movie is beautifully acted. Stratan and Petersen are incredibly talented and the movie is almost worth watching for their performances alone. Stratan’s portrayal of Elena as she tries to understand what’s happening to her is tortured and brilliant. Petersen’s performance as a woman desperate to be a mother and willing to do anything to achieve this end is so well done. We are simultaneously sympathetic to her hardships and terrified by the lengths that she’s willing to go to as well as the complete disregard she has for Elena’s well being over that of the baby’s.
This movie is also an interesting commentary on the way that immigrant workers are treated. When Elena first mentions to Louise that she is in discomfort, it’s obvious that Louise couldn’t care less as long as the baby is taken care of. Later on, once the baby is born, we don’t hear anything else about Elena; it’s almost as though Louise and Kasper have forgotten that she existed. She’s no longer useful and so she’s tossed aside.
All in all, this movie is very well done. It really takes the fear of pregnancy to another level and although it doesn’t really compare to the iconic Rosemary’s Baby, it’s still a strong contender in the body horror genre.
Movie description: Shelley is a 2016 horror film about a woman who makes a pact to have a maid bear her a child but things don't quit go as planned.
Director(s): Ali Abbasi
Actor(s): Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Cosmina Stratan, Björn Andrésen