Film Review: Lamb (2021)

In a fog-covered valley in the Icelandic wilderness lives a farming couple. María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) live a peaceful existence, carefully and quietly tending to their livelihood, their sheep. This calm repetition is abruptly broken when an unexpected guest arrives; one of the sheep gives birth to an infant that has the head (and right arm) of a lamb, but the body of a human toddler. Unsure of the best course of action in this distressing position, María and Ingvar opt to raise the hybrid infant as their own child, naming her Ada after Maria’s lost baby.

Even as the couple tries to find a new sense of normalcy in their situation, they are constantly reminded that this ideal is impossible. Ada’s biological sheep mother pleads with the couple by bleating to their window for hours on end, and Ingvar’s visiting brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is as appalled by Ada as he is by the couple’s seemingly unconditional acceptance of her.

Lamb marks itself a distinct spot in the cinematic landscape with its unique folk-horror premise, but the real deal-maker – even trumping questions of “how?” and “why?” – is the focus it gives its humans. Ultimately, Ada is a fantastic way to emphasize the decay of familial bonds and the human desire to constantly try and fix that which may be beyond mending. Pétur’s role as the peace-disturber and skeptic of the three leads emphasizes this, not to mention his infatuation with his brother’s wife, which he is not at all afraid to hide from her; for a family already pretty dysfunctional, you can imagine how tossing a lamb-child into the mix could muck things up a bit.

Noomi Rapace tactfully carries these ideas and themes within her performance as well. María knowingly manipulates nature and family — both for selfish reasons and for her genuine maternal desire to protect and care for Ada — even though she is fully aware of the risk it inherently carries with it. And Rapace hits the nail on the head with this character’s subtextual complexity, flowing between all of María’s worries, desires, frustrations, and little victories with ease and ever so much subtlety.

And really, “subtle” is one of the best ways to describe Lamb in its entirety. This is a VERY patient film, but manages to be much more of an immersive and atmospheric watch than a boring one. If you’re the person to munch down on just the latest blockbusters, this may not be the film for you. If you can sit still, however, Lamb is a deeply insightful, uncanny folk tale which reveals its true colors in its subtext and broader ideas; it explores human capacity for forming bonds and reminds us that messing with nature often results in nature messing back.

Overall rating: 8/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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