I’d like to preface this review by stating: if you haven’t seen the trailer for Lamb, don’t run to it! The trailer gave away every element of this story, so there were no real surprises or gasps from me. Curse the A24 post notifications and my curiosity!
A little synopsis for Lamb: When a half-human, half-lamb hybrid is born on their rural Icelandic farm, the couple, almost entirely unfazed, takes her in. I don’t want to completely spoil the film, so in this review, I will be tip-toeing around its crescendos and twists. Hopefully, you can take my word for it when I say that fate plays a role in a righteously folkloric way and plot-wise that is what you will get from me. For a film so dark and uncomforting, the comfort of familiar mythology redeems this quality. (Though I would like to mention the comforting cuteness of Ada, the half-lamb, half-baby of the film. I audibly “aww” -ed several times. Just me?)
Life itself is understatedly present in Lamb. Whether it be a background presence of heavy breathing, grunting, creaks, and the occasional bit of conversation, there’s going to be a subtly personified element in the Icelandic surroundings to capture your attention. Yet this “life” isn’t alluded to in a typically optimistic way but alluded to in the allegorical sense that “life” is precious, nevertheless coincidentally disposable and at any minute can be taken away from us. The everlasting haunt of this film is what leaves everything with this quality of life. Even more specifically, the house, barn, sheep, and the farm itself too share the trait. The most present character, in my opinion, is a presence from the icy, dampened, stone-colored filter of the film. A lot of times, when I’m watching a movie that has the similar cool-grey tones of Lamb, (quite reminiscent of Robert Egger’s The Witch), I find myself terribly uncomfortable yet simultaneously fully engaged because these tones often represent a darker presence, which is certainly true to this film. I must say that Johannson does an incredible job with this aspect. Take notes!
Maybe the title of the movie tells us all from the beginning that nature will have its course, and interfering with it can only have unfavorable consequences. When a half-human, half-baby is born, how in the world can we expect her life or the lives of those around her to be even remotely normal? But rather than provoking realism, (to reiterate what I believe that this film does a truly great job at), is that it easily can nuzzle itself between the dusty bookshelf of the Brothers Grimm folklore. I think a reason why we like allegorical stories so much is that we can remove ourselves from them so much, yet the story has such raw elements that can be used for our educational and moral advantage from an outsider’s perspective. The same goes for Lamb, as its cinematic successes truly lie in its timeless nature and basic themes which should rarely be done wrong when followed.
A lot of the times when a film like Lamb comes around, it’s perceived in many different opposing directions, but you don’t need me to tell you that. You and I have most likely been subjected to the A24/indie delusion of asking oneself: “Did I hate that or love it?” “What was that supposed to mean?” “Let me go look at what other people said so I can base my opinion off of theirs!” I’ve learned to appreciate ambiguity in film, but I often find myself asking where the line is drawn between vagueness and a lack of story or creativity. As far as Lamb goes, it’s certainly not a “re-watchable” movie. Although it’s confusingly (and sometimes painfully) hard to watch at times and I can almost smell the damp fog that’s also an everlasting presence throughout, I’m not rooting for anyone like I am in other similar films such as The Witch or Midsommar which is why I wouldn’t bring myself to watch again. At my first glance, this film leaves the audience questioning and confused, almost empty at times. However, after sleeping on it, I can’t help but return to this story’s key elements and wonder to myself: what is its purpose and why? Long story short: I’m still questioning if I liked this film or not, but can appreciate what it’s trying to achieve when I’m actively looking for it.
Score: ★★★ / ★★★★★