Review: ‘Lamb’

Strangely Heartfelt, Deeply Unusual Horror Sneaks Up On You Like A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

The best thing you can do is go into Lamb as free of spoilers as possible. Although the trailer teases the absurd, provocative premise expertly, it’s still best to in completely unguarded so as to take the full brunt of A24’s latest folklore-esque thriller, which is almost sure to become a cult classic. The question is: with who? While there is definitely a sobering character study of lonely, grief-stricken outsiders, what the film will inevitably be remembered for is its freakish central character, even though that character never utters a word.

A rolling fog and the thud of a hulking boogeyman’s footsteps set Lamb as just another moody, atmospheric horror from the folks at A24, who have made these films a successful part of their stable. But it’s all just a clever ruse. Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guõnason star as Maria and Ingvar, an isolated Norwegian married couple working their farm in quiet despair. They tend the soil and feed the animals, mostly sheep, joined by their loyal canine, Dog. There isn’t much conversation that goes beyond their work, but we sense a great pit of regret when he brings up a newspaper article about the existence of time travel. He talks about the possibility of going into the future. She suggests going back into the past must also be possible. The unspoken question “Would you go back and change anything if you could?” hangs in the air. When one of their sheep gives birth to a lamb that is…well, let’s just say it’s not like the others, Maria and Ingvar see this as a sign. They take the baby in and care for it as their own, helping them overcome grief from a past tragedy. If only it were so simple.

Despite the portentous, solemn mood and ominous tidings, you’ll be tempted to laugh at the first sight of the lamb. And each time you see it, which director and co-writer Valdimar Johannsson) keeps sparse initially, you’ll be reminded how absurd this entire thing is despite the serious tone. And it’s clear Johannsson is exploring the reaches those in anguish will go to find happiness by presenting it in what is essentially a really dark fable. It’s compelling stuff, mainly because of how accustomed you find yourself getting to the lamb, at much the same rate the people within the film begin to see it as one of their own.

Things change dramatically with the arrival of Ingvar’s brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), almost like a deliberate attempt to further subvert our expectations. He comes in basically as the audience surrogate after we’ve started to see the lamb as normal, only to bring a “The fuck is this shit?” attitude that jolts us back to reality. Twisted humor follows with him, but also so does a reminder that this isn’t going to end well for anybody. Johannsson reintroduces the grim tidings with a cold stillness that we had almost forgotten about under cover of the lovely weirdness brought on by the lamb’s presence. By the end, when Lamb takes its inevitably dark turn you’ll be shocked at how effectively you were lulled into thinking this strange oasis of happiness could last. It sneaks up on you, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Lamb opens in theaters on October 8th.

Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.