Running Time: 106 minutes
Written and directed by: Valdimar Jóhannsson
Featuring: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson and Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson
Petur: “It’s an animal, not a child.”
Released recently on DVD is the Horror/Drama/Comedy “Lamb” (2021) which has at its centre a very odd premise that is at once immediately interesting and weird with some fascinating characters but is let down by a light story and very little actual depth in the people we encounter. I for one enjoyed “Lamb” for what it was but it is definitely led by a great performance by Noomi Rapace who here reminds us all why she burst onto screens over a decade ago.
“Lamb” is a haunting and surreal film that tells the story of a childless couple in rural Iceland who adopt a mysterious and unconventional lamb. Maria (Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guðnason) are an unhappy couple with a remote farm in Iceland: it gradually becomes clear they have lost their only child. The drama begins with a strange spirit-visitation in the barn that scares the animals: a ewe becomes pregnant with a bizarre animal-human hybrid and poor, stricken Maria (her name’s importance is left for us to digest) conceives a passionate attachment to this precious being, naming it Ada after her dead human daughter.
From the opening shots of the desolate Icelandic landscape, “Lamb” establishes a tone of otherworldly mystery and unease. The cinematography is beautiful, with wide shots of rolling hills and close-ups of the expressive faces of the actors. The film’s score is also a highlight, with haunting strings and eerie vocalizations that add to the film’s unsettling atmosphere.
As the story unfolds, we learn more about the couple’s motivations for adopting the lamb and the strange circumstances surrounding its birth. Without giving too much away, I will say that the film deftly explores themes of parenthood, grief, and the boundaries between humans and animals.
Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson who here is making is his feature debut seems more interested in showing what he can do rather than concentrate on anything that would be memorable past the technical aspects which are to be fair excellent. When watching the film it seems there is very little to hold the interest for a sustained period of time and that comes down to the script and inability of Jóhannsson to drive a plot through the narrative. “Lamb” struggles to find meaning but at the same time gives little respect to the written characters and seems to leave all the heavy lifting to the actors while they are outlines of real people.
Rapace and Guðnason deliver excellent performances, conveying a sense of quiet desperation and yearning that is both relatable and unnerving. The lamb itself is also a fascinating presence, with its uncanny appearance and unexplained behavior adding to the film’s sense of unease. What is disappointing is that there is no indication of how their lives are lived on any real basis, we never see what they are doing with their flock or in fact how they even deal with each other which is a loss for the audience as well as the actors.
There is no doubt that this film attempts to offer some real themes, especially the loss of a child and what people will do to deal with this, there are stories of Mothers doing very extreme things when dealing with that and a mental break of any degree. However “Lamb” doesn’t really follow through on anything instead attempting to replace that with shock and twists. It may have been better to work on the script a lot longer to bring forth some actual comment on loss rather than just seeking a replacement for a lost child which can only go so far. In terms of the horror/fantasy element there can be comparisons drawn with the now long running Apple TV+ series “Servant” (2019-present) which too deals with the loss of a child but also brings in other elements to make sure there are some interesting story beats that play out around the loss and subsequent replacement of a baby. “Servant” is not a perfect series but it does show how to make different themes more palatable as well as exploring what it means to lose a child and again what people do to deal with a loss even when they seem strange and ridiculous from the outside.
Overall, “Lamb” is a thought-provoking and deeply unsettling film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. It may not be for everyone, but for those willing to embrace its strange and surreal world, it is a truly unforgettable experience.