October 13, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson
Icelandic with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Iceland, the horror movie “Lamb” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.
Culture Clash: A farmer wife and her husband, who live in a remote area, have a life-changing experience when an unusual lamb is born on their farm.
Culture Audience: “Lamb” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a “slow burn,” artistically made film that has subtle commentary about the consequences of trying to mess with Mother Nature.
“Lamb” is being marketed as a horror movie, but during the first two-thirds of the story, viewers might be wondering what’s so terrifying about this film. It isn’t until the last third of the movie that the horror elements kick into high gear and culminate in a memorable and impactful ending. Until then, “Lamb” is a very slow-paced film that can fool viewers into thinking that all they’re going to see is a movie about farmer couple taking care of a very unusual lamb.
“Lamb” is an impressive feature-film directorial debut from Valdimar Jóhannsson, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Sjón. The movie does a lot with very little. Not only is the landscape sparse where this movie takes place (on a sheep farm in rural Iceland), but “Lamb” also has a very small number of cast members. Only three actors in the movie have speaking roles. And there isn’t a lot of talking in this film.
Because the entire story revolves around this unusual lamb, it would be giving away too much spoiler information to say why this lamb is so unique. However, the movie trailer for “Lamb” does show glimpses that reveal why this is no ordinary lamb. It’s best to avoid watching the “Lamb” trailer before seeing the movie if you want to be completely surprised.
For people who don’t want any hints whatsoever, it’s enough to say this: When married farmer couple Maria (played by Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason) help the lamb’s mother give birth in the sheep barn, and they see this lamb’s unusual characteristics, instead of being horrified or confused, Maria and Ingvar are happy. Ingvar and Maria also exchange glances after seeing this newborn lamb, as if they were expecting this newborn to look this way.
Maria and Ingvar begin taking care of the female lamb as if it’s a human child, including having the lamb sleep underneath blankets in a portable tub that’s a makeshift crib. Eventually, the lamb gets its own real baby crib. Maria carries the lamb around as if it’s a human baby and uses a milk bottle to feed it. They name the lamb Ada and talk to the lamb as if the lamb is their own child.
Maria is very maternal and protective of this lamb, to the point where she becomes annoyed when she sees that the lamb’s mother has figured out that the lamb is living in the house. The lamb’s mother constantly makes noises as if she’s distressed that her child has been taken away from her. There are moments in the movie where viewers can tell that there are visual effects that give certain animals human-like expressions on their faces. It’s the first indication of the supernatural elements in the story.
Maria and Ingvar are happily married but they have a very isolated existence. They live far away from other people and don’t communicate with any other people besides each other. A lot of the movie’s screen time is showing Maria and Ingvar doing mundane tasks around the farm. They have a dog and a cat to keep them company, but their lives revolve around Ada.
It’s later revealed in the story why Maria and Ingvar have become so attached to this lamb and why they have named the lamb Ada. It’s the most obvious reason you can imagine. What isn’t obvious is how and why this lamb is so unusual. That reason becomes clearer as time goes on and viewers see that there are others who know about this lamb’s existence.
There’s a subplot in the movie where Maria and Ingvar’s isolation is interrupted when Ingvar’s older brother Pétur (played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) unexpectedly comes to visit. Pétur used to be in a semi-famous rock/pop band. But lately, he just seems to be a ne’er-do-well drifter who’s trying to avoid debt collectors.
Viewers first see Pétur when a car drives up on a road near Maria and Ingvar’s farm and two women and a man shove Pétur out of the car. It’s a scene that implies that Pétur has had some dealings that have gone wrong with some other shady people. And now, they’ve dumped Pétur in this isolated area.
Maria and Ingvar welcome Pétur into their home. He doesn’t tell them about the problems in his personal life, but they can sense that he’s temporarily homeless. Pétur’s first reaction to Ada is repulsion, but he eventually gets used to Ada’s uniqueness and grows fond of her.
In case it wasn’t obvious that Pétur has a sleazy side, he tries to make moves on Maria when they’re alone together. She rebuffs Pétur’s advances and makes it clear that she’s not sexually interested in him and that she won’t cheat on Ingvar. Pétur won’t take no for an answer though, so he continues with his sexual harassment of Maria. How she ultimately handles this problem is one of the few amusing moments in the movie.
Rapace gives an effective performance that is both endearing and chilling as an extremely devoted “mother” to Ada. “Lamb” is a movie that might be too creepy and slow-paced for some viewers, who might be expecting more action throughout most of the film. However, it’s worth it to keep watching, because the last 20 minutes pack a wallop. The movie’s ending is unsettling and bizarre, but it actually answers a lot of questions while leaving other questions deliberately unanswered.
A24 released “Lamb” in select U.S. cinemas on October 8, 2021.