The Cannes’ Prize of Originality-winning half-human half-lamb-born story, Lamb, manages to engage you during its first act quite well with the themes of motherhood and nurture amidst loss. Unfortunately, as it reveals its true self, it ends up feeling more like a farce rather than a prolific product.
Set in an isolated location in rural Iceland, a childless couple, Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), discover something unusual, unlike anything they have ever seen before: a half-human half-lamb newborn. The couple decides to raise little Ada as their own, but a baleful force is coming to get the “girl” and return her to the wilderness that created her.
After the Cannes reviews, my interest in Lamb increased vastly; it seemed like an unusual “horror-esque” take on motherhood and self-care amidst traumatic incidents. It was marketed as another A24 horror film, except it is nothing of the sort. It has the sensation of one, but it never quite gets to a point where it could be considered as such. It has a sense of disquietude as you try to figure out the mystery behind the creature and the affection the family has for it. Even so, a prologue pours more uneasiness into the mix by telling us that there is indeed something unknown coming their way. However, Jóhannsson manages to muff that sense of dread caused by traumatic loss.
There are moments when its weird central gist is interestingly captivating, as you think this might be an allegory for something in particular. These scenes are placed on its first act, a setup for what might be a contortion to your lucidity while showcasing the Icelandic beauty with tracking shots and other maneuvers. Nevertheless, as it develops its central story, you see that there isn’t much to it other than parents taking care of a kid who happens to be a lamb with human limbs. It seems like an idea that A24 would latch onto, yet this lacks a sense of structure compared to their other “eldritch” stories.
There are unintentionally funny moments, which make it hard to take Lamb seriously. It makes the central idea of motherhood feel like a gag instead of a plot device. It holds dear life with the quip, yet it all leads to a grave and ridiculous conclusion that was foreshadowed in the film’s prologue with the heavy breathing, a quite bathetic ending. Jóhannsson never fully settles on a specific topic; he seems to just pick them right out of a hat. And when he tries to address one of the many themes, he does so in various wisecracks.
The performances are pretty stable, specifically Noomi Rapace as Maria, albeit the characters are not well written. This is observable when Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) comes to visit the couple, and his character’s subplot doesn’t reach any grounds. His moment arrives, and it just happens, with no repercussions to/from the narrative or characters. These types of segments happen in several instances, where they might lead to a particular idea, but amounts to nothing. There are films with weird cores that have things to say, but Lamb, unfortunately, isn’t one of them. Did Jóhannsson really have that little to say? If it had abandoned the gag for a second and focused on a central argument, it would have flourished.