(Warning: review contains one major spoiler.)
Lamb is the debut film by Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson, and what a strong calling card it is. It sees a couple, Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), running a sheep farm in a remote Icelandic valley. A past trauma linked to the loss of a child is suggested and the couple don’t hesitate when an unexpected birth occurs in the sheep stalls. And they don’t seem to mind when the child is woollier than your average bundle of joy…
What unfolds is a strange and moody beast, whose tone is best encapsulated in the film’s central focus-point: the hybrid baby named Ada. The ruminant-humanoid sprog is both weirdly cute and deeply unsettling, and Jóhannsson wisely never clarifies which one it is. In entertaining both possible reactions, he creates a fable that walks a tightrope between atmospheric body-horror chiller and deadpan comedy. He looks to folklore and makes the most of the Icelandic landscape to heighten themes of parenthood, love and nature vs nurture, wrapping these musings in an oddly tense mist that never envelops his film too tightly within the horror genre.
It’s a deft – and frequently spine-tingling – balancing act that benefits in no small part from some shared DNA with the face-melting 2021 Cannes winner, Titane: both Jóhannsson and Julia Ducournau’s films deal with post-humanist splicing within a family context. No matter how warped it may seem, the child hybrid in both films can be seen to represent not only a new vision of what unconditional familial love and acceptance can be, but also a crossbred symbol of hope. It’s a fascinating watch. Long live the new woolly flesh!
Lamb / D: Valdimar Jóhannsson (Iceland, 2021), with Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason. Starts January 06.