May contain mild spoilers.
‘True horror isn’t found in the movie theatre, it is found in reality’
The above quote appears at the very end of the credits of Melanie Light’s short film The Herd, serving as a powerful parting shot to the audience. Billed as a vegan feminist film, The Herd has been on my watch list for some time now.
While there’s been plenty in mainstream news regarding slaughter house brutality (particularly when those brutalities are carried out by those of different ethnicities or religions), the dairy industry has been relatively ignored by mainstream news. While vegetarianism is now more largely accepted, it often feels like veganism is viewed as something still reserved for red paint-throwing extremists like PETA rather than a lifestyle choice that’s surprisingly easy to implement. As a result, many don’t realise how much cruelty is actually present in the industry.
What The Herd does is transfer this into a film in which LV Industries is housing women in cages, subjecting them to repeated inseminations, rough treatment from guards and even having new-born babies taken away from them. The guards are gleeful while carrying out their duties, employing electric shocks when the women don’t comply while the female captor (played by genre-favourite Pollyanna McIntosh) carries out her work with a cold indifference. Somehow the fact that a female character is complicit in the abuse of other women makes it all the more disturbing.
During the film one of the women is able to escape and the film focuses on her attempts to free herself from the compound where she makes further horrific discoveries about what the company is using the women for. What LV Industries as a business actually trades in is kept a secret until the very end and the high-gloss advertising of the company is excellently contrasted with the grungy and unpleasant industrial side that has come before it. This reveal also critiques the beauty industry and the onus on women using products in order to stay young and wrinkle-free.
Technically speaking, the film looks fantastic, with the grading and lighting adding a lot to an already incredibly dressed set. Stains of bodily fluids are present in every scene, giving a sense of history about the place – the abuses in the film are not temporary but a constant cycle. As a result, the film feels like the smells might seep through the screen which is a clear indicator of thoughtful, considered design.
The Herd is a difficult film to review – partly because there’s nothing quite like it already on the market and shorts are notoriously hard to review without giving too much away, but mostly because it is a staunch political statement, punctuated brilliantly with the use of real imagery of treatment of cows over the credits. While this does make for upsetting viewing it is an exceptionally important aspect of the film – hopefully snapping audiences out of complacency by turning the film they’ve just seen into something all the more real and troubling.