Okay kids, it’s time to gather by the fireplace for another magical fairy tale. Oh, scratch that, this is a movie so don’t have to gather around but at the local cinema or multiplex. And one more thing, this story is similar to a bedtime story, but it’s really not for the “little folks” (unless you want them to stop slumbering for a long time). Now it is set in a distant but very real country, even though it appears to be on the edge of the “Twilight Zone” or maybe “Castle Rock”. Oh, but there are some cuddly toys in history that are certainly reflected in their simple title, LAMB.
That distant place is Iceland, and for the first few minutes it lives up to its name. A herd of small wild horses trudges through a dazzling white landscape. They slow down when the group leader sees something while his eyes widen. Then suddenly they change course and run in the opposite direction from … something. Flash forward to warmer times as the story revolves around a married couple who live and work on an abandoned farm. Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudanson) hardly interact with each other while they work in the fields and look after their sheep, the tiny AM radio as the only background noise. When one of the sheep goes into labor, the duo go into the barn to help pull out the newcomers. Days later the herd becomes restless and their screams wake the couple. Returning to the barn Maria is helping with a new birth, but that is very different. She and Ingvar immediately wrap the lamb in a blanket and take it away from its mother as they rush to their house. They start raising the lamb as a baby and let it sleep in an old crib. This leads to the ewes standing by the back door for hours and bleeding … until Maria “takes care of it”. The next big hit is Ingvar’s aspiring singer brother Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson), whose former bandmates dumped him on the street. He is stunned to see the new “lamb child” (a real WTF moment), but he soon settles in to help the couple temporarily. Unfortunately he is lying to Maria (behind Ingvar’s back). But it is not the only disturbance of the dreary everyday life. Strange noises rock the quiet night (though the sun stays out) as her familiar border collie disappears. Are you being attacked by a mysterious unknown being who may be linked to your “son”?
A talented cast goes a long way in adding a sense of real drama to the quirky aspects of the story. Rapace makes Maria perhaps the most complex and contradicting character in history. In the opening sequences, the “farmer’s wife” is simply “on the move”, apparently stuck in the “autopilot” while she controls the tractor and cooks an endless supply of potatoes and beef. With the “miracle” Rapace shows us that the light in Maria’s eyes quickly comes to life again. It is as if the “mother switch” has been activated, which also leads to cruelty. Her passion for her husband is back too, though she half-heartedly fends off her brother-in-law’s advances (in the words of Indiana Jones, “How hard did you try?”). And in one scene we see the sadness she tried to suppress, much like what Ingvar did. Even Gudnason as a quiet farmer sleepwalked through his work and marriage until the “event” pulls him back into reality. He is in stark contrast to his sociable brother Petur, who thanks to the charming work of Haraldsson becomes the audience substitute. He’s just like us when he sees the amazing new family “addition” (the biggest laugh in the dark film), and he even conveys a real “cutie” despite his lustful actions.
The first director Valdimar Johannsson creates an uncomfortable feeling of tension that permeates every scene. The isolation and constant sunshine add to an alien aura that can drive school principals insane or at least make some very bad decisions. The script, which he wrote with Sjon, feels like a modern fable, even a cautionary story, similar to “Tom Thumb” about “The Monkey’s Paw”, as a wish is granted, but with dire consequences. And while such a painfully calm environment and very stoic characters could mislead viewers’ thoughts, we are instead drawn into this world that is so strange yet earthbound. What helps to “sell” this bizarre “concept”? I would compliment a very talented team of artists, with multiple CGI teams being credited along with a bevy of puppeteers. Part of me is interested in seeing “making of” style footage while another part of me doesn’t want to “look behind the curtain” and want to spoil the “magic”. Adventurous film fans have been rewarded for their patience as many scenes will “haunt your dreams” (similar to THE WITCH a few years ago). Also, the ending “outta ‘nowhere” will keep you in place for most of the credits. LAMB is a nightmarish adult fantasy and immersive cinematic experience.
3 of 4
LAMB is now playing in theaters everywhere