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Lamb joins A24‘s growing list of horror dramas. It’s earnest, atmospheric, and periodically abstract. It’s slow-moving and doesn’t have much of a big climax to speak of, but it’s a solid exploration of the relationship between nature and the human condition. Sjón and Valdimar Jóhannsson’s horror screenplay contains very little dialogue, although Jóhannsson’s direction is meaningful and substantial.
‘Lamb’ is folk horror to its core
Married and childless couple Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) live a quiet life alone on their farm in Iceland. They spend their days doing chores around the farm and tending to the animals. However, it’s clear that there’s an unspoken tension that has created a wedge between the couple.
Maria and Ingvar’s lives change when one of their sheep gives birth to an odd lamb-human hybrid. The couple decides to take the creature in, name her Ada, and raise her as their own. However, their strange new child creates issues with Ingvar’s critical brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) and Ada’s sheep mother. Maria and Ingvar are willing to do anything to protect their new happy family.
‘Lamb’ is split into three chapters
Lamb‘s story is told over the course of three chapters separated by title cards. The film follows Maria and Ingvar as they do their chores as if they’re just simply going through the motions. The married couple occupies the same physical space, but it’s clear that their minds are in totally different places. Ingvar brings up that time travel is theoretically possible. Maria assumes that someone must be figuring out the practical details. It’s clear that they aren’t living in the present.
The farm is removed from society and all of its expectations and judgments. It almost exists outside of time. Chapter two sees the introduction of Ingvar’s brother, Pétur. He’s a member of the family, but he doesn’t share their love for Ada. Pétur comedically brings in the confusion and shock to the absurd situation that his brother and sister-in-law are raising a lamb-hybrid as their child.
Once you get on Lamb‘s strange wavelength, it’s exactly what A24 sells it to be. It’s a peculiar horror folk tale that goes as far as it needs to make its point. The meaning is set around nature, family, loss, and both the nurturing and destructive nature of humanity. However, the natural order of things isn’t always very kind to people.
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s slow-burn horror film is intimate
Jóhannsson’s directorial style makes Lamb feel timeless. Time is often standing still for Maria and Ingvar, but Ada is an opportunity for them to move forward together as a family. The farm is surrounded by gorgeous landscapes that create an openness that’s quickly taken away by a thick, mysterious layer of fog that traps the audience in. Þórarinn Guðnason’s score contributes to that feeling with subtle music that’s filled with both sorrow and dread.
Lamb has only three lead roles, which allows the movie to really center around them. Rapace turns in a nuanced performance. Maria has a lot on her mind, but never truly communicates all that she means to say. Rapace does a wonderful job translating her character’s pain and sorrow, but also her hope for a better life after finding Ada. Guðnason’s Ingvar is a bit more talkative, but he lands all of the subtleties. He often puts on a face for Maria, only to break down in quiet moments alone. Guðnason pairs extraordinarily well with Rapace. Finally, Haraldsson brings excellent comedic timing to Pétur with his physical reactions.
Sjón and Jóhannsson’s screenplay is thin and doesn’t satisfy on a narrative level. Lamb leaves the audience with more questions than answers. It has no interest in leaving you feeling fulfilled or satisfied. But, that isn’t the point of the A24 film. Lamb blends humor, dread, and sorrow into one picture, providing commentary on the human journey. The slow pacing can be trying and its direction is a bit predictable, but it’s a unique film experience that is equal parts peculiar and absorbing.
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