Lamb – No Spoilers

Lamb (2021)

Directed by Valdimar Jòhannsson
Written by Valdimar Jòhannsson and Sjón

Like many people, I try and avoid movie trailers these days. They’re often made by PR companies without input from the director and can include potential plot/action spoilers. It’s disappointingly common to go into a showing having already seen the best bits! So, on a wet and miserable Saturday afternoon, I caught up with a friend at our local (the State Cinema in North Hobart) and watched Lamb, directed by Valdimar Jòhannsson. All either of us knew about this was Noomi Rapace was top billed, it’s an Icelandic film, and A24 were distributing. And that was enough information for us to have a thoroughly enjoyable cinema experience!

From the opening scene, I found Lamb a wonderfully atmospheric film, sumptuously shot and one of the most original pieces I’ve seen for ages. That said, there’s a timeless, dark undercurrent as the story plays out, suggesting nordic mythology and folk horror. Rapace is excellent as Maria, who with her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Gudnason) farms sheep on an idyllic but very isolated farm. There is an air of magic realism that runs throughout and scant exposition that leaves much up the individual viewer. But these supernatural touches are elegantly juxtaposed by situations and conversations which are very relatable and believable, especially when Ingvar’s brother, Pètur (Björn Hlynur Haraldssen) visits. Also, having spent a lot of time living in relatively remote rural areas, I could relate to the very realistic depictions of farm life, from helping deliver animals to the ubiquitous thermos of hot coffee out in the paddocks.

The minimalist script by Jòhannsson and celebrated Icelandic writer Sjón (former member of The Sugarcubes and Bjork collaborator), marries perfectly with the superb sound design (Björn Viktorsson), unobtrusive original score (Poraninn Gudnason) and the carefully framed cinematography (Eli Arenson) offering touches of John Ford and Hitchcock in scope and intent. This lack of exposition combined with a delicate balance between the natural and supernatural audiovisual elements leaves adequate space where we, as active audience members, can draw our own conclusions.

With its minimal dialogue and haunting visuals, this film is a wonderful lesson in “show, don’t tell” storytelling and while it isn’t a horror movie in the mainstream “splatterfest” mode, I know it won’t be for everyone, no film ever is. For my part, I found it uplifting, genuinely creepy, unbearably sad – and I can’t stop thinking about it.

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