For some reason, I’ve watched more than my fair share of cult-related fare during quarantine and there’s something about the brainwashing aspect of that culture that’s always intriguing. The stories are typically at their best when the seemingly inexplicable magnetism of the leaders is portrayed well on film. Unfortunately, The Other Lamb isn’t one of those instances which leaves you to question exactly where the appeal is.
One of the daughters of the cult’s leader begins to question their way of life as she transitions from girl to woman in the group’s hierarchy. She quickly begins to learn that things aren’t as she’s been told.
Ferdia Murphy’s production design and Michal Englert’s cinematography are the dominant elements of this film, painting an exceptionally creepy picture that takes place exclusively in the woods. The set dressing is very dark aside from unexplained white string woven throughout the settlement, which pops visually on camera. Englert used a lot of closeups to convey an unnatural intimacy and his landscape cinematography down the line is beautiful. The visual storytelling is so compelling it keeps you engaged, even though you’re not exactly sure why.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film never lives up to its presentation. Raffey Cassidy holds her own in the lead role as Selah but she’s left to carry it, mostly on her own. Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones) is appropriately lecherous as Shepherd but is never a magnetic presence, which makes you wonder why he has any followers. The indoctrination of the children makes sense, but not so much with the adults. The semi-paternal relationship isn’t built well from the bottom up so its resolution doesn’t land with the appropriate kind of impact. It comes down to the C.S. McMullen screenplay that’s more focused on lead character progression than establishing a foundation.
Denise Gough delivers a tortured and exhausted performance as Sarah, one of the eldest females in the group, and it’s her story that ultimately sets things in motion. This is where McMullen’s writing is at its strongest but the movie could have used more of it. Director Malgorzata Szumowska had a solid grasp on the tone and made sure to lean on the minimalist visual presentation but there just wasn’t the right kind of impact to the ending.
Recommendation: While the film is undoubtedly creepy, it doesn’t fall into the horror or psychological thriller categories so, fans of either may be disappointed.