VOD film review: Lamb (2021)
James R | On 25, Feb 2022
Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Ingvar E Sigurðsson, Ester Bibi, Sigurður Elvar Viðarson
“What the f*ck is this?” cries Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), when he visits his brother, Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) halfway through Lamb. It’s a question that many in the audience will likely be asking themselves throughout this bizarre, bewildering oddity, which starts off as a poignant tale of loss and loneliness and ends up somewhere completely weird.
Except Lamb is far subtler and more nuanced than that, managing to be both sad and surreal simultaneously – a balancing act that most experienced filmmakers would struggle to sustain, but feature debut helmer Valdimar Jóhannsson pull off with unabashed aplomb. From the opening, it’s clear that Ingvar and María (Noomi Rapace) are living an isolated life on their remote Icelandic farm. Childless and dealing with the unspoken grief of that absence, they find a form of comfort in the surrogate caring for their farm’s livestock.
Just where that leads them is at once simple and stupefying, and the tense script – cowritten by Jóhannsson and Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson – succeeds because it dares to look that paradox directly in the face. Jóhannsson’s direction, though, almost playfully avoids giving us the complete picture for much of the runtime. The result teeters between horror, comedy and mournful family drama, without ever really settling into one genre or the other, and the fun of watching the film comes from that uneasy, yet seamless, gliding from one mood to the next.
All this wouldn’t work without a game cast, from Hilmir Snær Guðnason’s committed deadpan to Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s amusing yet threatening audience surrogate. But it’s Noomi Rapace’s show, and she excels here, delving deep into Maria’s unusual but undoubtedly human journey. She anchors this enjoyably slippery slice of folk horror in a moving study of maternal longing, fear and protective anger. What is it? Goodness knows, but it’s not something you’ll forget anytime soon.