‘Lamb’ Blu-Ray Review
Marketed as a folk horror, the bizarre Icelandic fable ‘Lamb’ is now available on blu-ray courtesy of MUBI. Mixing a kind of sweet, pastoral charm, with the unsettling atmosphere of a waking nightmare, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s directorial debut is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and will likely haunt you for the days and nights that follow.
In a rural and isolated part of Iceland, perpetually engulfed in swirling mist, and surrounded by ominous mountain ranges, María (Noomi Rapace) and her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) manage a small farm. The film takes place during that period of the year when darkness doesn’t fall in Northern European countries, which makes it immediately unnerving.
During lambing season, one of their sheep gives birth to a creature that resembles a human child, but with the head and right arm of a lamb. With barely a moments pause, María and Ingvar take it into their home and treat it like their own child without even thinking about it. They name the child Ada, and for a while, theirs is a life of happiness and contentment.
Then Ada’s biological mother begins to loiter outside the house, bleating incessantly for her lamb, and María feels maternally challenged by its presence. At the same time, Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) shows up unannounced and further imposes on the happy family unit. There’s very little dialogue in ‘Lamb’ and most of the early scenes are played out wordlessly, so when Pétur arrives halfway through the film and asks “what the fuck is this” he is very much asking the question that has been on all our lips since the extremely troubling opening scene.
‘Lamb’ flirts with horror iconography, and there’s certainly some haunting and nightmarish imagery in Jóhannsson’s film, hinting at what might be out there in the mist. But ultimately the film feels much closer to a modern fairytale than anything else, effortlessly flitting between a fable about parenting, and a magical realist meditation on grief. It works of course because Jóhannsson and his actors play it with the straightest of bats. Rapace in particular breathes such life into María, you genuinely believe she would do anything for her family.
This film is certainly not an easy sell. It’s hard to describe without sounding a bit daft, and how you react to it will largely depend on how you respond to the absurdity of what is happening. Do you buy into this scenario, or do you just laugh and go “what the fuck is this” like Pétur does in the film? I recommend you go into this with an open mind if you can. ’Lamb’ is a peculiar and unique film. Beautifully shot, incredibly heartfelt, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The blu-ray disc comes with a single Q&A with the film’s director Valdimar Jóhannsson and star Noomi Rapace.