Lamb (2021) Review

Lamb (2021)
The hardscrabble lives of Icelandic farmers Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) are reinvigorated by a miraculous discovery in their sheep shed. But a shadow is cast over their newfound happiness when Ingvar’s ex-pop star brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) rocks up unexpectedly.

by Ian Freer |
Published on
Release Date:

10 Dec 2021

Original Title:

Lamb (2021)

“What the fuck is this?” someone utters halfway through Lamb. They’re not wrong. Valdimar Jóhannsson’s slow, absurdist quasi-creature flick is impossible to categorise, mashing up folk horror, Icelandic relationship drama and black comedy into something admirably different. The screenplay is co-written by Jóhannsson and Icelandic multi-hyphenate-but-singular-named Sjón, who has co-written Robert Eggers’ upcoming Viking flick The Northman. Lamb shares a lot in common with Eggers’ work, especially The Witch: a well-built sense of dread, an eeriness borne out of environment and a dark feel for the relationships between humans and animals. It doesn’t all come together, but it is the kind of film that benefits hugely from knowing nothing about it before you go in. So, if you’d like to bail now, be our guest.

Lamb (2021)

Jóhannsson sets the off-kilter mood from the get-go: a herd of horses emerge from a white mist and animals scarper at the sight of an unseen creature (Ingvar Lunderg and Björn Viktorsson’s sound design starts as it means to go on: consistently unnerving). The land belongs to Maria (Noomi Rapace) and her partner, Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), hard-working Icelandic farmers who are comfortable in silence, a state perhaps triggered by a tragedy in their past.

After a slow start, _Lamb_ develops into an engaging exploration of nature versus nurture ideas.

The film quietly follows the couple in their day-to-day routines of farm chores and minimal conversation — spending time with them is a bit of a patience-tester. Following the end of winter, Maria and Ingvar’s sheepdog (a brilliant performance by the late Panda, the Daniel Day-Lewis of canines) alerts them to a kerfuffle in the sheep-shed. The pair discover a human (body)-lamb (head) hybrid and, rather than run to the barren hills, decide to adopt the creature. They call her Ada.

After a slow start, Lamb develops into an engaging exploration of nature versus nurture ideas. Maria and Ingvar raise Ada, an impressive mixture of practical and CG VFX, as their own, the idyllic scene threatened by the arrival of Ingvar’s wayward brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, whose slow-blinking reaction to first seeing Ada is priceless).

Jóhannsson, whose grandparents were Icelandic sheep farmers, has a feel for the milieu and, along with cinematographer Eli Arenson, creates stark, beautiful images that find discomfort in tableaux rather than whip-pans and jump-cuts. In its final third, the film enters more obvious creepy territory and, even if it can’t come up with a completely satisfying conclusion, Rapace’s compelling performance as the new mother striving hard to build a happy life keeps the absurdity palatable and engaging.

Centred by a committed, affecting performance by Noomi Rapace, Lamb gets over its longueurs and missteps with interesting ideas, filmmaking craft and a unique tone of voice. Also includes some of the best animal acting of the year.
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