This notable debut from director Ali Abbasi will likely illicit comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s the early films of David Cronenberg that most directly inform Shelley. The film details a Romanian immigrant’s servitude to a granola couple living along a remote countryside. Elena (Cosmina Stratan) assists with the day-to-day routine of Kasper (Peter Christoffersen) and Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), aiding in the maintenance of their household as she attempts to earn enough money to support her family. As the triad becomes increasingly close, and with the news that Louise is incapable of having children, Louise presents Elena with an offer: carry Louise and Kasper’s child in exchange for a large sum of money, enough to escape her life of servitude and return to her family.
The sociopolitical elements of this proposal are clearly on display, but this is a film that relishes in the mounting horror of seeing Elena’s body and psyche crumble under the anxieties of carrying Kasper and Louise’s child. As Elena approaches her delivery date, her temperament becomes increasingly hostile, her skin inflamed and scarred, all as she believes that the child may be trying to kill her. Abbasi understands the delicate rhythm required to maximize the terror of seeing a woman disintegrate, and utilizes Cosmina Stratan’s slender frame to astonishing affect. It’s an impressive physical performance, one that resembles Najarra Townsend in Eric England’s Contracted; another shoe-string budget horror film that relied on diligent and economic filmmaking.