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A24's Lamb proves to be an engrossing yet confusing natural horror

Posing thought-provoking questions around nature and motherhood, Lamb proves an interesting debut for Valdimar Jóhannsson

By Omran Al Jallaf, Third Year, Politics & International Relations

A24 horror films like The Witch, Hereditary, and Midsommar have gained quite a lot of appeal and success these past few years; their distinctive style of being unnerving has almost made them a subgenre of their own within the horror canon. Now Lamb, the debut feature film from Icelandic director Valdimar Jóhannsson, is the latest to be added into A24’s roster of contemporary horror films.

Lamb tells the story of a couple, María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), who live in a mountainous Icelandic area, raising sheep and farming on the land. The film’s cinematography aims to convey an idyllic, rural life; with minimalist set design in the couple’s house and countless cut shots of the mountainous landscape that eventually became unnecessary.

Courtesy of IMDB

One day, María and Ingvar are helping sheep give birth when one births a half-lamb/half-human baby. With unquestioning certainty, the couple decides to raise the hybrid baby, whom they name Ada after their daughter who passed away. They raise Ada in their house exactly like they would a human child, feeding her human food and letting her sleep in a crib next to them.

They form an attachment to the new baby; becoming incredibly protective of her especially when Ada’s birth mother comes to the house to take back what is rightfully hers. They even protect her from Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), Ingvar’s mysterious (and quite sleazy) brother who shows up on the property uninvited. He seems to be the only voice of reason in the film; sensibly questioning the absurdity of what the couple is doing.

Courtesy of IMDB

The film poses thought-provoking questions on nature and motherhood, but does little to provide definite answers; relying completely on the interpretive ability of the viewer. Since the film is also divided into chapters, the events seem to happen in a self-contained space, thus not really blending into a cohesive narrative.

Nonetheless, Rapace gives an excellent performance as María. Through an interesting, albeit juxtaposing, combination of relaxed movements and wandering stares, Rapace convincingly communicates María’s constant sense of uneasiness, which then becomes highly palpable to the audience. It even somewhat creates a rationale for her behaviour as someone who might not have fully processed her daughter’s death, and so she still feels a sense of maternal duty.

Courtesy of IMDB

Lamb will have you giggling at all of Ada’s heartwarming little movements and mannerisms, while still keeping you aware of the impending sense that something sinister is about to happen. However, for all the tension it builds up, it rarely delivers truly terrifying moments, save for one climactic moment near the end. You will leave the cinema wondering what you watched, and probably conflicted if you enjoyed its darkly comic style. It just leaves a lot unaccounted for, which will undoubtedly frustrate audiences.

Featured Image: IMDB

Do you feel Lamb deserves a place in the A24 Pantheon?