Whenever A24 announces a new horror film, most know that it’s going to be something wild and disturbing. With an art-house flair to it, they’ve distributed some of the most disturbing, bizarre films in modern horror such as Hereditary, Under the Skin, and Tusk. For their latest release, an Icelandic farming couple receives an unnatural gift that initially brings them joy but, ultimately, will be the catalyst for their destruction in Valdimar Jóhannsson‘s LAMB.
So as to not reveal any spoilers, I will turn to the official synopsis: “A childless couple in rural Iceland make an alarming discovery one day in their sheep barn. They soon face the consequences of defying the will of nature, in this dark and atmospheric folktale.”
LAMB is unlike anything else I’ve seen this year. It’s quiet and still, with stunning cinematography and exceptional performances. It’s a film that rightfully deserves the acclaim it’s receiving and could easily find itself a contender during award season. The only catch? It features a lamb-child, an idea that not everyone may be on board for. But, for this critic, I was more than excited to go on this surreal journey.
The viewers are introduced to Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), a farming couple struggling to connect with one another after an unknown tragedy. Though they are respectful towards one another, it’s clear there is a massive gap between them filled with all the things they’re afraid to talk about. However, that all changes when one of their ewes gives birth to a special kind of lamb.
What follows is a slow-moving nightmare that touches upon themes of isolation, grief, parenting, and more. We as the audience know that the joy the couple is experiencing is one that will not end well. As the couple starts to build their lives around the lamb that they affectionately call Ada, it becomes disrupted by the surprise arrival of Ingvar’s brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), the black sheep of the family and a failed musician who begins to wreak havoc on the couple’s lifestyle with Ada.
For his feature film debut, director/co-writer Valdimar Jóhannsson knocked it out of the park, finding himself quickly within the ranks of other auteur directors such as Ari Aster and Robert Eggers. Co-writing alongside Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón (The Northman) they’ve created an atmospheric fantasy located in the Icelandic countryside that includes elements of horror to create their own type of folklore.
For a film dealing with such heavy themes, there is a surprising amount of humor most of which surrounds the activities of the couple and their lamb-child. I personally didn’t watch a single trailer prior to seeing the movie so, I was NOT prepared for the reveal of the lamb-child. Using a combination of live child actors, puppetry, and minimal CGI, Ada possessed both a human and animal nature, which did result in some humorous scenarios, especially when reverting back to her animal tendencies.
Then there are the darker moments, the most striking being a flash of cold violence between Maria and the ewe that birthed Ada. A mother’s instinct colliding with a mother protecting her child becomes the ultimate test of who the alpha is. This is further compounded by Pétur’s arrival and the baggage that he brings, knowing full well it could tear the fabric of the family into pieces. Add on the appearance of a supernatural being shrouded in darkness and the film quickly turns from a humorous tale of a lamb-child to a reminder that nature will always reclaim what is theirs.
LAMB is a special type of film that won’t appeal to everyone but will find its rightful place among fans of surreal horror. Visually, it’s a beautiful piece of art with breathtaking scenes of the Icelandic countryside. Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason both give career-worthy performances that’ll be hard to shake off, especially towards the end of the film. Some might be lost on the slow pacing of the film, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded at the end.
LAMB is now in theaters.
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