More often than not, the usual state of affairs where a married couple lives a rural, simple life has a patented formula of romance and thrills. But in Valdimar Jóhannsson's Lamb, all bets are off with this farming couple who are dealing with a tragic loss and are given an unforeseen curiosity that sets their lives on a different journey. With great sadness that's mixed with blunt, out-of-this-world comedy, Jóhannsson's first feature film immediately and permanently puts him on the cinematic radar for something satisfyingly original, meaningful, scary, and most of all - beautiful. This subtle adventure into parenting, grief, happiness, and the whole nature vs nurture angle makes Lamb one of the best and strangest films of the year. MUST-SEE!
Lamb was written by Jóhannsson and the Icelandic poet and writer Sjón who have taken elements of horror folklore, Greek mythology, and western melodrama and have created a poetic tale set inside a luscious Icelandic valley of sheep farming. On the surface, this locale is serene, peaceful, and gorgeous - full of amazing hills, mountains, and greenery. But this place is riddled with a haunting mist and eerie noises that conjure up some a state of uneasiness - much like Robert Eggers' first film The Witch. It's best to go into Lamb blind with knowing nothing about the film because Jóhannsson's vision and ability to perfectly craft exactly what's happening on screen is nothing short of special and terrifying in its slow burn with flashes of insanity.
The opening sequence sets the haunted tone for the film as something in the snowstorm makes its way, scaring every animal in its path as this unseen creature approaches a barn. Through the reactions of the sheep inside and from the brunt noises and breathing, it's clear something weird is taking place. From here, Lamb introduces married couple Maria (Noomi Rapace from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) as they go through the monotone emotions of everyday sheep life farming. They barely speak, touch one another, and are basic zombies to each other's existence and surroundings.
It's clear they are suffering from an unimaginable recent loss that has hindered their ability to function normally or love again. That is until their faithful sheepdog alerts them to a ewe giving birth. Their shocked faces reveal that this is not a normal birth, but Jóhannsson declines to elaborate on this special gift of nature. He only reveals tiny crumbs as Maria and Ingvar begin feeding this new baby lamb from a bottle and swaddling the new animal in a crib inside their bedroom.
Told in different chapters, one such segment has the arrival of Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), who is Ingvar's estranged brother who has a penchant for mischief and trouble. This outsider acts as the conduit to Jóhannsson's audience as he reacts to their new situation. Still, at this point, the audience is not aware of what is taking place inside this quiet family home. Gudnason and Rapace's performances turn from sad, lonely people to one of happiness and a brand new sense of being a protector from outside elements that showcases their strength and inner psyche to do whatever it takes to make their new addition feel safe.
Lamb is a drive through a tunnel of absurdity and real-life parenting where the director's vision is to play all these elements with a straight face and never walk that balance beam of straight comedy. This choice makes it all funnier, yet terrifying at the same time. Jóhannsson creates this story with barely any dialogue. Instead, the film relies on the truly phenomenal facial expressions of the cast. Long bouts of no dialogue work in the movie's favor, because it drives home the suspense and reality of the situation much more effectively without words. Thórarinn Gudnason’s score always adds to the slow build-up of suspense while hinting at some supernatural elements around the countryside. And the mix of practical and CGI effects is nothing short of pure brilliance.
Lamb is a beautiful experience in the long and turbulent role of parenting, loss, and happiness. It has the perfect ingredients that make up an oddly funny, and simply terrifying story that is for sure to stick with everyone after they view it. With truly excellent performances from Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason, memorable characters, and a tight script, Lamb serves as one of the best and most haunting films of the year marking the arrival of a fantastic new director. MUST-SEE!