Lamb Movie Review 2021 – The Spool
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s debut feature is moody and captivating, but fragile themes prevent it from delivering on its own promises.
As Shakespeare said so well: what’s in a name? Based on the religious nature of the characters’ names in Valdimar Jóhannson’s first film, Lamb, there must be something allegorical about the plot of the film. Yet, as convincing as Lamb is, in the final analysis, its religious symbolism amounts to very little.
Located on a remote sheep ranch and farm in Iceland, Lamb follows childless couple María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). Their lives lighten up with the arrival of Ada, a half-lamb, half-human child, born to one of their sheep. Despite the odd nature of their adopted ward, the couple create a family, eventually bringing Ingvar Pétur’s (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) prodigal brother into their fold. The reunited family lead a quiet, pastoral life living off the dreary Icelandic countryside. But while they’ve created an almost idyllic life, something lingers in the Icelandic wilderness that threatens to tear them apart.
Jóhannson’s earlier work was primarily technical and included cameras, electrical crews, and special effects. His past shines through Lamb, which is dripping with atmosphere and visual intrigue. Jóhannson and cinematographer Eli Arensen create haunting vistas from the beautiful, desolate Icelandic landscape.
Dominating mountains dominate the figures, emphasizing both the isolation and the smallness of the figures. Like other farm animals whose A24 production is set up on an isolated farm, The witch, muted colors and fog dominate Lambnature’s visual palette, reinforcing nature’s apathy to human survival. Þórarinn Guðnason’s score appears sparingly – the film mostly opts for silence and the occasional diegetic bleat of one of the many sheep.
While Lamb’The acting and the visuals are extremely successful, its plot is relatively uneven.
Rapace and Guðnason’s acting matches the film’s stillness – their body language and expression is a big part of the storytelling. At the start of the film, before Ada arrives, María and Ingvar are distant from each other, even physically close. After the pair welcome Ada into their lives, their relationship grows stronger, and both actors use small, tactile gestures to portray their changing dynamic. When Pétur joins the story, Heraldsson brings a welcome, lively energy to the film that helps break up some of the slow-paced nature of the plot by directly injecting tension and levity.
While Lamb’The acting and the visuals are extremely successful, its plot is relatively uneven. Jóhansson and the novelist Sjón, who wrote A dancer in the night and forthcoming by Robert Eggers The man from the north, wrote the screenplay. Lamb explores its overarching themes: grief, family-making, happiness, and tragedy with subtlety and nuance. But they’re coated with a patina of religious references that constantly draw attention to themselves without ever really being consistent.
All the characters of Lamb suffered intense but indefinite trauma. Ingvar and María almost certainly lost a child before the film – if their distance from each other and the presence of an unused crib is anything to be said. Pétur arrives being thrown from a car and left for dead. We never know what caused this, and his earlier issues and bizarre sexual obsession with María are never detailed. But, despite all that the details of the set’s suffering are obscured, their grief and attempts to create happiness with each other are present on screen.
The religious aspects, on the other hand, are handled like a cudgel. Lamb opens with what appears to be Ada’s conception, on a dark snowy night, in a manger, on Christmas Eve. María is the Icelandic version of the name Mary, drawing a line to the Virgin Mother. Pétur is analogous to the apostle Peter. He even takes Adah on a fishing boat while talking about lambs walking on water (for those unfamiliar, the Apostle Peter was a fisherman who saw Jesus walking on water and himself able to walk on water momentarily until his faith wavered). Heck, even Ada is a biblical reference to Esau’s daughter (who was a very hairy man – you know, like a sheep). Yet despite these blatant allusions, the Christian themes never quite click into place. Is Ada supposed to be Jesus? Yes, she had a miraculous birth, but when it comes to textual substance Beyond that, Lamb is confused.
Despite the puzzling religious references, LambThe visuals, acting, and (non-religious) exploration of its themes are strong. The film is a slow burn, but it is well paced. It offers new treats that keep the viewer engaged. And it’s always refreshing to watch a movie that’s so weirdly unapologetic, and so unabashed itself, which makes Lamb worthy recipient of the “Originality Prize” at Cannes this year. While it probably won’t have the appeal of some of A24’s other suspenseful offerings, it’s a solid directorial debut, and I’m interested to see what Jóhansson produces next.
Lamb hits theaters October 8th.