A24’s newest addition to strange horror is the Icelandic folk film Lamb, a quiet, eerie story of motherhood’s clash with nature. This is Valdimar Jóhannsson’s feature-length directorial debut and stars Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason. Lamb is a cold, exquisite fairy tale. It’s unique filming techniques and smart writing builds an atmosphere that is tense and unpredictable.
Maria and Petur take care of a remote farm in Iceland tending to their crops and livestock. The couple live simple, quiet life when a mysterious force encapsulates the countryside and a sheep gives birth to baby that is half human, half lamb. Maria and Petur, childless, take advantage of this opportunity and adopt the lamb as their own. They name her Ada, give her clothes to wear, teach her how to dance. But as fulfilling as their lives have become, evil and dispair lurks in the field and it is difficult for Maria and Petur to fully enjoy this gift that nature has bestowed them.
Where Fairy Tales Meet Horror
At first watch, Lamb is a slow movie in which not much seems to happen. There is seldom dialogue between the characters. But the quietness provides an ethereal yet haunting atmosphere. Tension fills the air in all scenes, whether it is in the stables or when Petur cries while plowing the fields. Even tender moments allude to dread with the movie’s haunting score and cold, dreary weather.
The acting in Lamb is impressive and the writing is inspiring. Folk horror’s conjoining of fairy tale and horror elements create an intimate viewing experience filled with awe and dread. The simplicity and quietness provides and opportunity to play with other horror tropes and tell an entirely unique story. What I appreciate most about the movie is how it does not hold the audiences’ hand. For example, rather than using expositional dialogue, body language and facial expressions are key components in communication.
The camerawork is nuanced, and while the CGI of the lamb-human hybrid is a bit ridiculous, the overall cinematography and effects – e.g., the simple but impactful use of gore – make up for it. The ending is absolutely bizarre, but if you pay attention to the small details, you will find foreshadowing imagery.
There is an abundance of layers to Lamb that, the more I think and read about it, the more I discover. It is strange and beautiful, subtle and haunting. Folk horror’s use of magical realism leaves room for interpretation; all of Lamb has a solid storyline that is also entirely interpretable. Be aware that, although it is an A24 movie, it is nothing like an Ari Aster-type film. It is its own being; an eerie, suspenseful slow-burn, remarkable from beginning to end.(4.5 / 5)