Directed by: Valdimar Jóhannsson | 107 minutes | drama, fantasy | Actors: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Ester Bibi, Arnþruður Dögg Sigurðardóttir, Theodór Ingi Ólafsson, Sigurður Elvar Viðarson, Gunnar Þor Karlsson, Lára
It is bleak among the Icelandic mountains, and lonely. Nature dominates and man is only small in this vast landscape. In this icy isolation, the childless couple Maria and Ingvar have devoted themselves to a sheep farm. After a nightly storm they make a special discovery in their stable, one of their sheep has given birth to a half lamb, half human child. Although not a word is mentioned about a god or belief, you can see Ingvar visibly struggling with this wonderful, unnatural-looking gift. Maria’s maternal instinct immediately takes root and adopts the lamb’s baby as Ada. Slowly something beneficial arises in that inhospitable area and Maria, Ingvar and Ada form a trinity. And as if something just fell from the sky again, Ingvar’s brother, Petur, knocks on the door to take shelter from fate. How long will this idyll last? In addition, there is something more sinister in the mountains around the farm, because who is Ada’s father anyway?
Maria, an unwavering Noomi Rapace, is a peasant woman with a deep desire to start a family. When it comes down to it, Maria as the fighting machine Ripley from the ‘Alien’ franchise, is inseparable from her hybrid baby. However, the thirst for earthly legacy is also pregnant with the disaster in ‘Lamb’. Ingvar, a restrained playing Hilmir Snaer Guonason, seems aware of this, but does not deviate from Maria’s side, even when his brother Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson), bon vivant and mischievous boy, suggests that Ada might be a curse rather than a curse. gift.
In ‘Lamb’, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s directorial debut, the characters barely talk. They live so remote that words are silenced in echoes. More mystery than a fable about unnatural reproduction, this Icelandic production avoids too much pathos. Nevertheless, all kinds of questions buzz in the background, which the film almost stubbornly leaves unanswered. This doesn’t have to be a problem, as long as it manages to maintain its intense, unsavory atmosphere and subcutaneous tension.
When the real father of the child haunts the farm, ‘Lamb’ is at his best. This mythical monster still watches over the lamb, but it also feels like he is hunting for his DNA. The confrontations with the biological father are occasionally close to kitsch, but the actors are so believable that it does not disturb. Moreover, the unobtrusive camerawork serves an almost hermetic minimalism and the emphasis on uncomfortable light in ‘Lamb’ resembles that of ‘Midsommar’ (Ari Aster, 2019). The Icelandic cold does the rest.
Despite the fact that ‘Lamb’ keeps the more hysterical side of (body) horror films in check with its minimal style choices, these choices also have their limitations. To avoid the uncanny valley in relation to Ada, the film is somewhat trapped in its realistic approach. In addition, the director keeps the bestiality at the base of the story veiled out of the picture, thereby declaring the sensual side of the danger from the mountains a taboo. Does the film really dare to set boundaries? What are Maria and Ingvar really afraid of? In this way ‘Lamb’ does not fully pursue its (ir)rational as ‘La bête’ (Walerian Borowczyks, 1975) and ‘Titane’ (Julia Ducournau, 2021) do. It is also remarkable how isolationism is hardly questioned in an Icelandic film, because isn’t closing yourself off from the world part of the sin that hangs over Mary and Ingvar?
Almost to the last breath, ‘Lamb’ emits a suffocating atmosphere of tension and desire, but as the threat draws ever closer, that atmosphere loses power. Then it dares not fully embrace its horror and comes with a predictable, unsatisfactory ending. The master of slow cinema, Bela Tarr, was a producer of the film. Although Jóhannsson does not go to the same stylistic extremes as Tarr, the Icelander also uses a lot of long shots and slow camera movements, which benefits the sweltering. But unfortunately the sacrifice of this lamb does not carry the same weight as a film by Tarr, a notorious wolf in sheep’s clothing regarding his view of humanity.