Mutton For Punishment
A24 whiffs with ‘Lamb,’ not the Icelandic livestock baby horror movie we wanted
I know you’ve been waiting your whole life for a horror film about a half-lamb, half-human child. Well it’s here now, and you can thank first-time feature director Valdimar Jóhannsson from Iceland for the new folkloric fable Lamb.
Lamb is one of those films where you’re either in or you’re out from the premise. Are you down for a cold, quiet foreign film about a sad couple raising a cute abomination? I certainly was, but now I have my regrets.
Directed by: Valdimar Jóhannsson
Written by: Valdimar Jóhannsson and Sjón
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Hilmer Snær Guðnason, and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
Running time: 106 mins
Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) live alone on an isolated sheep farm. Their existence is mostly quiet, but definitely not peaceful, with an unspoken tension between the married couple due to past tragedy. That is until a miracle happens out in the barn. One of their sheep gives birth to a lamb with mostly human features. Only the head and right arm are that of a lamb. Maria and Ingvar decide to bring it into the house and raise it as a human child.
From this point on they feel a constant sense of dread that something might happen to the baby, whom they’ve named Ada. The sheep birth mother of Ada won’t give her up without a fight, and Ingvar’s brother shows up unannounced and has…concerns. All of this is contrasted by the couple’s unwavering adoration and care for Ada.
For most of its runtime, Lamb keeps a straight face, and this plays out almost like a parody of the A24 horror tentpoles that have come before. There’s even a scene where they place a flower crown on Ada’s head.
The amazing thing is that this film almost works and might have you in love with it until the last fifteen minutes when there’s a large, ridiculous reveal. It becomes irredeemable after that.
This is a shame because Jóhannsson certainly has a great eye, and he put in a tremendous effort to maintain an immersive vibe. The animals in the film are mostly real livestock, and a couple scenes of sheep giving birth and giving off ominous vibes involve entirely real onscreen animals.
In an audience Q&A at Fantastic Fest, Jóhannsson revealed that most scenes of Ada were filmed using real children and real lambs with some light puppetry involved. The result is pretty endearing.
Perhaps we as a society are just not at the point where we can have a good half-lamb, half human horror film. But we should keep trying until we get there.