Lamb is much creepier than it is outright scary, but it maintains a dark sense of humor and excels in drawing out the narrative subtext of its main characters’ personal histories.
Set on a small farm in Iceland, a couple discovers an unusual lamb birthed from one of their sheep. The couple begins to give the lamb special attention and privileges as their own personal tragedies begin to unravel. At first, things seem to be going well but a surprise visitor threatens their newfound bliss.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film as I’m completely unfamiliar with Valdimar Jóhannsson as a filmmaker. In fairness, this was his debut feature film so there wasn’t much for me to be familiar with but I was very fond of how he maximized the minimalist approach. The whole thing is set at a relatively secluded farm in the Icelandic countryside and there are only five people in the cast. Even most of that boils down to the three main roles.
The performances had to be strong given the circumstances and they are, but before I get to that I have to mention the extraordinarily bizarre screenplay by Jóhannsson and globally renowned author Sjón. The idea of this mysterious and special lamb is weird, in and of itself, but it’s really just the catalyst to explore the characters. When we are first introduced to the couple, they are mostly just going through the motions of their lives and maintaining their farm. I mentioned the subtext earlier and, during the character intro, we see that there is no warmth between these people. Once the baby lamb comes into their lives, we begin to see them warm up to one another, and we learn why it’s so important to them. What I appreciated most was how little of it was expository. Most of the information is given to the audience is given through scene actions rather than through dialogue and it makes you feel the temperature of their relationship in a different way. It could leave people with some questions but I appreciated that it required me to connect some dots for myself.
Noomi Rapace’s trademark intensity comes in handy here as we see her character, Maria, go from a reserved farmer to a fierce mama bear as her maternal instincts are reignited. It’s her fiery portrayal that fuels the story and you can add this to the list of challenging and eccentric roles on her resume. It’s these kinds of performances that always make me take interest in the projects she attaches herself to.
Hilmir Snær Guðnason, who looks like an Icelandic John Ritter, plays her husband Ingvar who’s initially resistant to their sudden change. He’s mostly along for the ride for a while until his brother is introduced and he’s forced to define the nature of their newfound family dynamic to an outside presence. Björn Hlynur Haraldsson plays the brother, Pétur, with plenty of charisma and loathsomeness. The washed-up rock star who’s burnt all his bridges and forced to rely on the good graces of his brother, Haraldsson swings from one end to the other on the likability pendulum with great ease.
Eli Arenson’s cinematography captures the picturesque nature of the Icelandic country and also uses the design of the structures to create natural framing. The visual storytelling helps drive the story in conjunction with the intense original music by Þórarinn Guðnason.
Recommendation: This is a great choice if you’re in the mood for something different. It’s not made for a wide audience but it was made with craftsmanship and exists almost like a moving piece of literature.
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