Review: Lamb Delivers Story of Family, Isolation, and Loss
First and foremost, despite the image I chose above and the events in the trailer, do not head into Lamb expecting a horror movie—or at least like any horror movie you have ever seen. After watching this film, unless you have felt the losses similar to any of the main characters, you will be comfortable still counting sheep to sleep. Honestly, it’s best to go in expecting nothing, but as you are here reading this, I know your curiosity got the better of you.
Directed and co-written by Valdimar Jóhannsson (with Sjón), Lamb tells the story of Icelandic sheepherders and farmers María (Noomi Rapace of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Whatever Happened to Monday?) and Ingvar (stage actor Hilmir Snær Guðnason, best known from the film White Night Wedding). After establishing their laborious routines and hinting at an unspoken sadness, they find that sheep tagged 3115 unexpectedly pregnant and now in labor. More unexpected is the fact that two-thirds of the resulting baby lamb is human.
The bulk of the story beyond that initial reaction follows the characters coming to terms with the fact that they adopted this lamb/human hybrid child. Named Ada (after someone in the family who passed), the lamb is showered with love and affection early on by María, with Ingvar quickly following suit.
All of the 100% human performances by Rapace, Guðnason, and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson (The Borgias) were great, as expected from any A24 film. Rapace, in particular, channeled her actual experience as a mom to deliver captivating scenes, often with few words spoken (a.k.a. most of the movie).
Ada is just in the movie enough to be a presence even when not around. Constructed onscreen by a combination of (real) living lambs, child actors, puppetry, and CGI, she was not only believable, but the audience cared for her, too. The decision to keep her communication nonverbal contributed to our suspension of disbelief and her shy personality. After all, she is a single child with no experience with humans (50% or more) beyond her parents.
Similar to Ada, the fully-non human animals also had a presence in the film. Part of this was how we project emotions on animals (like our pets) and what we know of animal behavior. The masterful camera work, sound, and editing by the crew made the communication successful.
This film also serves as a reminder that not everyone’s cut out for farm life. From fixing the tractor (without a YouTube tutorial) to even coming across the half Lamb (without Googling how tf this happened), I was like, how? Sure, the tractor, like working on a car, comes with experience and a patient teacher. However, the birth of their child is understood to be very new to the parents, especially if it stands contrary to everything understood of nature.
The mountains, hills, etc. usually reserved for sweeping epics like Game of Thrones (something Jóhannsson and producer Sara Nassim worked on), in this film, feel different, at some points menacing, while other moments are more calming. Several times I thought to myself, This looks fake, and then remembered it wasn’t. We just aren’t used to contemporary, domestic scenes in this vast setting. This complemented the themes of domesticity and nature/nurture within the story.
The single element I felt robbed of and the reason I couldn’t rate it higher was the ending. Sure, no one owes me an explanation for the big reveal in the film’s last chapter, but I would really like to know. Because there was a slow build of horror and mystery elements, I must say that, without spoiling anything, this felt anti-climactic.
Regarding the mystery elements, these people don’t really investigate why Ada exists, and it feels like the audience are the only people invested.
Overall, Lamb is a heartwarming family drama and black comedy sprinkled with light horror and heavy mystery. It delivers both a familiar and yet unique story.
Lamb releases in theaters on October 9.
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