First-time feature film director and co-writer Valdimar Jóhannsson’s “Lamb” is a hauntingly grim — and, at times, almost too outrageous to grasp — commentary on motherhood, miscarriage and Mother Nature. Difficult to digest, let alone discuss without spoiling key components of the plot, I wholeheartedly believe the A24 film is worth the watch. “Lamb” is unnerving, eyebrow-raising and strangely beautiful, wrapping a boldly original storyline into a supernatural horror about nature versus nurture.
Filmed in Icelandic with English subtitles, the rated-R-movie emanates Scandinavian folklore fused with contemporary life. As a folklore-horror fanatic, “Lamb” is stylistically reminiscent of “The Witch” and is a visual poem for grief and trauma.
“Lamb” stars Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guonason as married sheep farmers recovering from an apparent miscarriage. The couple, whose notable silence conveys an underlying tension between the two, develops an unusual affliction for one of their sheep’s sick offspring.
Viewers watch the two cope with anguish over their lost dreams of parenthood by nursing the lamb, named Ada, back to health. Their attachment progresses and they begin to parent Ada as their own, dressing her in children’s clothes and tending to her in a crib. Around the 45-minute-mark, viewers get their first real glimpse at the ewe’s body — a human body attached to a lamb’s head.
With minimal dialogue or background music, coupled with the landscape’s natural fog and mist, much of the slow burn film is left to the psyche to anticipate what happens next. It lures and keeps viewers engaged through a building dread of an ominous, yet inevitable, reality check that lurks across the hills. As the farmers continue to act out their blissfully ignorant, idyllic fantasy, viewers are kept on the edge of their seats as they await a sinister presence to penetrate the plot — until it finally does.
Although it is not formulaic or predictable, “Lamb” portrays the extensive lengths some will go to avoid pain and preserve their dreams. It also demonstrates the powers of motherhood and the anxieties of parenthood.
While I wouldn’t categorize “Lamb” as horror, I think it is horror adjacent. It folds in elements of eco-horror, touching on the dire implications of violating human-animal coexistence.
“Lamb’s” underlying tension is also heightened by the strong emotions conveyed by its animals, including the livestock, the sheep dog and the cat, and their intuition to their surroundings. The sheep appear otherworldly and watchful, frequently breaking the fourth wall.
How viewers respond to Jóhannsson’s “Lamb” will depend on their interpretation of the plot as literal or metaphorical. For those looking to indulge in a horror film that will leave them afraid to turn off the lights, this might not be it. But for those interested in succumbing to a boldly original, artistic and hauntingly beautiful film with a clearly conveyed message, I highly recommend.