Posted: 04/19/2009




by Jason Coffman

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As filmmaking technology has become cheaper and more accessible, more and more people are able to realize their filmmaking dreams. Of course, it’s still not easy to make a film, and it’s especially not easy to make a film while most of your cast and crew are working day jobs. Heathen, the debut feature film from writer/director/producer/editor (whew!) Ross Shepherd, is exactly that sort of production, shot on weekends and free time over the course of 2008. And as far as no-budget debuts go, Heathen is a damned good one.

The film opens with several minutes of moody black and white footage with eerie sound design that establishes a intriguing, somber tone. William (co-writer Tom Rudd) drifts through his bleak, identical days since the disappearance of his brother David (Steve Lorrigan). Disconnected from his friends and family, William rarely leaves his home except for work. That all changes shortly after Chloe (Amber Coombs) moves into his apartment building and the two strike up a relationship, but before long the past comes back to haunt William as he begins receiving messages regarding his brother’s disappearance. And William starts to notice a man who appears to be following him…

Heathen is a dark drama with shades of psychological thriller that relies on a solid central performance from Tom Rudd as William. William is in nearly every shot of the film, so it’s a good thing that his performance is so convincing. There are barely five speaking parts in the entire film, lending it a focused, claustrophobic quality. This narrow works very well with the stylish black and white photography and evocative music and sound design. From a technical standpoint, Heathen is surprisingly accomplished for such a small production.

The only real complaint I have regarding Heathen is that it puts a lot of stock in a shocking twist near the end that may not be much of a surprise to keen viewers. Regardless, the film is undeniably hypnotic, and well worth seeking out. I’m anxious to see where Shepherd goes from here.

Learn more about Heathen at

Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.

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