London Film Festival 2021: Lamb

One film that was an intriguing watch was Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Icelandic horror Lamb. The film follows married couple María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who run a small farm where one of the sheep gives birth to a sheep/human hybrid that they affectionately name Ada after a child that they had previously lost and treat her as though she is a human child. What follows is a sequence of unexpected events that explores themes of identity and family whilst also incorporating elements from various genres including horror, thriller and sci-fi. The result is a film that can be unsettling and unconventional while distinguishing Jóhannsson as a director with a unique point of view.

Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson in his directorial feature debut and based on a script he cowrote with Sjón, Lamb is unlike any other horror film. Subverting the folklore trends so commonly seen in horror today, Lamb is a film that feels as though it may be misunderstood by some and gradually gain popularity as time goes on. Jóhannsson’s vision manipulates you into thinking that the film will take a certain direction and then completely subverting this and throwing in many unpredictable twists and turns. The writing never allows itself to get too close to the protagonists which means that the audience is never spoon-fed and provides a desire to learn more.

Noomi Rapace is great as María, a woman who is completely besotted by Ada following a life plagued by loss and grief. Rapace can always be relied upon to provide a fearless performance and María seems like a character that was written for her. María isn’t always likeable and her motivations aren’t always understood but we still feel sympathy for her despite her flaws. The scene in which Rapace locks Ingvar’s brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) in a closet and then plays the piano loudly to drown out his screaming draws her suffering and pain to the surface as we see her attempt to glaze over the negativity with music, a metaphor for her willingness to overlook Ada’s physical differences and accept her as her own.

In support, we see Hilmir Snær Guðnason play María’s husband, Ingvar in a performance that builds as the film unfolds. The decision-making between the couple usually lies in María’s hands in a role that would traditionally fall under a man’s control but Ingvar doesn’t complain or feel emasculated at any point. Content with his life, Ingvar embraces Ada as his own and does his best to provide for his family. Guðnason is a great onscreen partner for Rapace as they compliment each other’s approaches perfectly. Where Rapace’s performance is full of physical emotion, Guðnason has a quieter performance that is full of nuance and subtly, working well against the horror element of the film.

One thing that the film makes use of is the beautiful cinematography by Eli Arenson. Arenson manages to capture a world that is set in an open space whilst contrasting this with a claustrophobic setting as we feel trapped within the home. This isolated feeling makes the characters seem locked and unable to travel beyond their immediate surroundings, feeding into the horror elements of the film. Arenson utilises the natural surroundings to create a realistic approach against a topic that is full of fantasy, driving it away from being a traditional horror. It is this grounded approach that makes Lamb such an unpredictable watch and such a beautiful looking film to behold.

Lamb isn’t a film for everyone but those who enjoy it will be able to appreciate the beautiful scenery, intense writing and raw performances with characters that we never fully understand but keep us gripped from start to finish. It’s a film that will undoubtedly grow in popularity and requires multiple watches due to the various layers, textures and themes that it explores. The unconventional approach this film has is why it has been selected as Iceland’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards which will hopefully bring Lamb to an even larger audience.

Lamb is released in the UK on 10th December 2021!

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