Stunning cinematography, the perfect score, and stellar performances by Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason make A24’s Lamb a feast for the senses. Lamb’s a weirdly wonderful and horrifyingly twisted relationship drama that asks us to embrace the bizarre and take nurture’s side in its battle with nature.
The story opens with a view of an isolated farm cloaked in a swirl of snow and clouds and covered with an icy blanket. Deep guttural breathing can be made out and horses flee from an unseen presence methodically making its way through the snow. Sheep nervously pace in a barn as the door to their enclosure opens, causing some of the flock to squeeze their wooly bodies into a safe space at the back of the building.
The farm’s human presence comes in the form of Maria (Rapace) and Ingvar (Gudnason) who quietly go about the task of living. It’s not immediately apparent if their minimal verbal exchanges are simply the norm for their relationship; tending their animals and working the land doesn’t require much conversation.
The sheep take up a good deal of the couple’s attention and assisting pregnant ewes with the delivery of lambs is part of their routine throughout the long winter months. It’s during the delivery of one particular lamb that the couple’s heartbreaking past is revealed. The special delivery provides the answer as to why the couple’s interactions feel disconnected and why an aura of sadness surrounds them.
Unlike the other newborns, this lamb is taken from its mother and brought to live in the couple’s home. Maria and Ingvar treat this lamb as their own child and the veil of grief is lifted as little Ada brings joy back into their lives.
First-time feature film director Valdimir Jóhannsson makes us fall deeply in love with this strange little Icelandic family. We do so like lambs to the slaughter, hopeful and optimistic this unique threesome’s love for each other will be enough to overcome all obstacles. So what if Ada will never be accepted by outsiders or live a normal life. Maybe it’s even against our better instincts that we’re pulling for Maria and Ingvar. After all, Ada’s an aberration, albeit one who looks adorable in overalls and boots.
Valdimir Jóhannsson and co-writer Sjón, along with outstanding effects and puppetry, make it incredibly easy to suspend our disbelief and accept the unusual family dynamic central to Lamb. The film has a Grimms’ Fairy Tales vibe and is ultimately just as dark and twisted. There’s always a price to pay for upsetting the natural order of things, and and co-writers Jóhannsson and Sjón’s stunning third act fulfills the need to set things right no matter the cost.
MPAA Rating: R for some bloody violent images, sexuality, and nudity
Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes
Release Date: October 8, 2021