Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
Every now and then a film comes along that defies logic, reason and presumption. LAMB is one of those films.
Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason, saddened and void by the grief of their child, take solace in the birth of a lamb. A miracle of life awakens a new beginning for the couple as they bring the lamb up as a part of the family which was separated by death.
This new life is something bewildering as it grows into a social freak alienating the couple from society and from their commitments to rearing their sheep stock. So far, so country life and LAMB is best viewed knowing very little. Behind sweeping landscapers and a pastel palette there's something cold about a film that is for the most part a heartwarming and at one point deeply upsetting reflection of grief and moving on, all with ambiguous metaphors and Nordic folklore.
Buried in symbolism and old folk tales, it's easy to disassociate Valdimar Jóhannsson's LAMB from the horror genre and keep it more aligned to the reflection of humanity and the impacts of life and death in the cycle notion the film drives in. Without heading too far down spoiler lane, there's a blinkering moment of sheer horror that comes so far left field it leaves you shaken and yet for the modest runtime, it's all that is needed to keep those looking for a horror film happy, while giving depth for those wanting something much deeper than a shock scare.
Jóhannsson and Sjon's screenplay, who will now be synonymous with Robert Eggers THE NORTHMAN, feels alien, distant and inhuman in feeling toward warmth and connection. The journey of discovery and ambiguity to reason is simply left and shared with the audience. Accompanied by a fantastically Nordic score by Þórarinn Guðnason (whose resumé already is adorned with praise from contributions to JOKER and SICARIO 2) is as perfectly ambient for the unfolding drama.
Further exploring the dynamics of mother and father while outside dynamics also come into play, the most dynamic psyche is shown through the farmstock themselves. Themes of motherhood, and parenthood as a whole, and the outside view of strange or alien techniques is taken, and learned on. There's a scene where Rapace takes a sheep out into the fields mirroring a later shot of Guðnason's brother doing the same and it's this execution and small contrasting details that bear the deeper motifs of protectiveness and more important, the letting go and letting the young understand a world their way, with comfort they are in great belonging. The trust a mother has, differs to the trust a world gives back and it's interestingly expressed here, with a mother so untrusting of nature and the world around her due to grief, that when opportunities arise, she becomes defensive and attacking at the same time.
The isolated farmlands to the three person cast, LAMB is cold film and despite it's tone and barren scenery, there's so much heart. Rapace and Guðnason are superb and the lack of any real dialogue turns this into an artform of interpretation, such so as the ending is muted moments after sheer madness. There are no answers here, but instead a journey, one even the audience will onboard and tear at while frantically trying to scramble your jaw off the floor.