It’s impossible to talk about “Lamb,” the Icelandic creature thriller, without revealing its central theme. Co-written by first-time-writer/director Valdimar Jóhannsson, who used to work as a special effects crew for Hollywood blockbusters like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Prometheus,” and Icelandic poet Sjón, “Lamb” might be the oddest film you will ever see on the big screen this year.
The film is presented like the folklore about parenting, grief, and Nature v Nurture, mixing beauty and violence effortlessly. It also feels like a savage yet poetic fairytale that being told in a bizarre, but somehow, familiar structure. We first meet Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), a sheep-farming couple living in a remote rural area surrounded by mountains and fog that looks like time has been frozen. You can easily see the two are unhappy as they barely exchange words or smile. The first time we hear the conversation between the couple is at the dining table when Ingvar talks about the possibility of time travel from the newspapers, then through Maria’s reaction, you can notice they had painful memories from the past (even though we’ll never learn what exactly happened to them).
But “happiness” comes when they are helping a sheep give birth in the barn. The arrival of the lamb changes everything. The couple pause, exchange a look with an unrecognizable expression. Cut to the next scene, Maria carries the newborn lamb into their bedroom. And I really have to stop here to prevent me from spoiling everything. From here, Jóhannsson establishes a suspenseful mood that will make every audience try to figure what’s really going on while delivering the theme of parenthood, personal trauma, greed, and mankind’s selfishness.
With the help of cinematographer Eli Arenson, Jóhannsson also develops an immersive and soulful visual style that allows actors to fully commit to the extremely unusual performances. Rapace, whose actually Swedish but speaks excellent Icelandic thanks to her childhood experience, facial and physical expressions are compelling to watch and never make the audience feel ridiculous even in the film’s most surreal twist.
Watching “Lamb” is a disturbing experience. The isolated field, eerie silence, lonely nightmare, anxiety of being a parent, and the relationship between humans and animals. It’s no surprise when A24 announced the acquisition of North America rights before the film’s premiere at Cannes Un Certain Regard Selection. The studio had discovered Robert Eggers’ “The VVitch” and Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” two of the most talented rising masters of horror in recent years, and Jóhannsson’s stunning debut will definitely put him under the spotlight.
- Distributor: A24
- Production: Black Spark Film & TV, Chimney Poland, Chimney Sweden, Go to Sheep, Madants, and Rabbit Hole Productions
- Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson
- Writer: Valdimar Jóhannsson and Sjón
- Producer: Piodor Gustafsson, Hrönn Kristinsdóttir, Sara Nassim, Jan Naszewski, Erik Rydell, and Klaudia Smieja
- Cast: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
- “Lamb” premiered at Cannes Film Festival. A24 released in theaters on October 8, 2021
Read the review in Chinese