Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s unique first Feature is a disquieting Supernatural Horror and harrowing Domestic Drama. Childless couple, María (Noomi Rapace) and Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) spend their days tending to their rural farm in Iceland. One day, the couple witness the birth of a mysterious newborn in their sheep barn and decide to raise it as their own. It marks a new era of hope for the couple, but sinister forces threaten to take the creature back.
Jóhannsson’s greatest strength is his ability to create mystery and tension by hiding aspects of the story. When the ‘baby’ is born we aren’t shown it. Rather, we see the couple’s confusion and curiosity at witnessing it. This ambiguity grips us and Jóhannsson continues playfully toying with our imagination, as camera angles and clothing are used to cover the creature’s body. It becomes a game in which the Director is Puppeteer, causing anticipation with each glimpse. When the abrupt reveal happens, the impact hits harder.
Additionally, Jóhannsson, and Co-Screenwriter Sjón, hold back the reason behind the desperate couple’s need to raise this otherworldly child. There are hints from the beginning, such as the emptiness of the house. However, it is thanks to the talents of Rapace and Haraldsson that we learn the couple’s sorrow-filled past. Over breakfast, the couple stares through each other with grief worn faces. Once we realize why they’re willfully denying the truth about the creature, who they’ve named Ada, we understand their need to live-out their version of a peaceful, hopeful existence.
Impressively, this disquieting narrative lends itself to some comedic levity. We watch as María places a flower headband on Ada and the three of them eat meals together at the kitchen table. We know Ada is a supernatural creature, but at times Lamb is presented to us as a naturalistic Domestic Drama. Then Pétur’s brother, Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) shows-up. He’s essentially a stand-in for the audience and is the first to mention the absurdity we’ve witnessed. Guðnason is great as the shocked and comedic Ingvar. Yet, even Ingvar isn’t a match against Ada’s allure. Soon, he willfully accepts this warped family, as we have. Even though Ada doesn’t really belong to this human family.
We know this couple has taken something that doesn’t belong to them — as seen when the sheep mother calls at the bedroom window to bring Ada back to the barn — but we still wish them the best. This is thanks to the tremendous performances from Rapace and Haraldsson. Their powerful work displaying the despair of the couple in the beginning, perfectly contrasts the elation this creature brought into their home, giving them a second lease on life.
Yet, María and Pétur have taken this creature from its parents and in turn the wilderness. We know one half of the family Ada has been torn from, but not the second. One thing is for sure, Ada’s other parent will attempt to take ‘her’ back. Once again, Jóhannsson plays with the audience. He implies this other parent is in scenes throughout the Film, but doesn’t show it. Instead, keeping that reveal for the final moments. The theme of nature is shown by the breathtaking Icelandic landscape. Whenever the couple leaves their house, the mountains tower over them and at times the dense fog envelopes them. Jóhannsson shows us that nature will take back what belongs to it, creating natural order.
LAMB is incredibly-unique and cannot be missed. Cineplex Pictures release LAMB on Friday, October 8, 2021.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre.*