Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson
Starring Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason & Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
Damn marketing departments! They’re always peddling something. After the success of highbrow horror films VVITCH, It Comes at Night and Hereditary, A24’s marketing department decided to peddle their recent release, Lamb, as a “horror” film, which does the viewer a great disservice. Going into Lamb thinking it’s a horror film certainly won’t help you understand it more easily. In fact, it might change your interpretation and detract from your overall enjoyment.
If I oversaw the A24 marketing department I’d more accurately describe Lamb as a fantastical family drama set on a beautiful and very remote farm in Iceland. Director Valdimar Jóhannsson brings tact, mystery and cinematic beauty to bear with his first feature length film. As with most independent projects, the cast is small. Swedish actress extraordinaire Noomi Rapace is our conduit for denial, wonderment and pain — channeled directly to the core of our being. Through her character, Maria, we get a glimpse of what it is like to be a mother, the light and the darkness. Her male support staff, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, are convincing as brothers who have beaten different paths through life but are now together with Maria on an isolated farm with a new addition to the family.
The film’s first two acts skillfully build an ephemeral tension. Scattered glimpses of chaos left me dumbfounded, but I easily pushed my focus back to the oh-so-interesting human interactions. By the time the final act commences, the tension was solid and non-stop, ratcheting up to an unforgettable grand finale.
Lamb says something metaphorically about parenthood that, deep down, we all know. But the images on screen are full of fantastical things we don’t or shouldn’t know. At its core, this is a fable, and when they are broken down and stretched out, most fables are quite uncomfortable.
Most of the time, the film is unsettling and even horrific. (Ooops! Maybe the marketing department at A24 was correct? Maybe this is a horror film? Well, I better view it again. Like most A24 films, it is always best to view them at least twice. Even if you don’t “get it” by the end of the second viewing, then you will at least know that you for sure “don’t get it.”)
If Hereditary is an A, VVITCH is a B+ and It Comes at Night is a B-, then Lamb fits comfortably in the middle at a B.