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Review: 'Lamb' a peculiar and unforgettable Icelandic fable

Courtesy of A24


Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Johannsson’s debut feature, the bizarre folklore “Lamb” comes at you from several different angles. It’s a hypnotic, often transfixing mediation on the struggles of parenthood with horror elements encoded in the DNA. Johannsson’s atmospheric, WTF thriller offers a gorgeous view of the Icelandic countryside with an even weirder context. In the realm of A24’s obscure pictures, “Lamb” sits in the middle of the pack, awaiting discovery. The less you know going in, the better.

Like Robert Egger’s assured debut, “The Witch,” before him, Johannsson tows the line between crazy and plausibility. Focusing on Maria and Ingvar (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), a childless couple operating their own sheep farm away from civilization, “Lamb” unravels its mystery in episodic fashion. Told over three chapters, “Lamb” sets off a slew of odd vibes in the midst of lambing season when a pregnant ewe gives birth to something that’s neither human nor animal. It’s sort-of both. Even stranger, Maria and Ingvar, unfazed by this marvelous biological creation, build a crib and start dressing it like their own offspring. They call her Ada (a solid combination of actor, puppetry and CGI).

We believe Ada belongs in the family considering “Lamb,” as outlandish as it is, plays everything straight. The performances do a convincing job at bridging the gap between hallucination and reality, something Johannsson and screenwriter/Icelandic poet Sjon tinker with up until its bonkers conclusion. (Is this really happening? One might whisper to themselves). The filmmakers are unafraid of winking at the audience, all but challenging those perplexed to peek into the minds of struggling parents using grief to help foster new beginnings (or what looks like one). A disarray that yields its own consequences (when Ada’s real mother comes snooping around, it sends Mara into a tailspin of questionable decisions).

Rapace and Gudnason are terrific drivers for this vehicle, as is Ingvar’s perplexed brother (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), the only soul in the movie who questions Ada’s presence, but even he eventually warms up to her. Cinematographer Eli Arenson keeps “Lamb” in misty focus, unfurling the glistening mountainsides and foggy aurora with an unwavering appreciation for its central location and primary character. Both engaging and disillusioned at the same time, “Lamb” finds strength in familiar elements (parental bonding, motherhood etc) while also tossing a curveball or two, begging viewers to indulge in this tiny isolated world and rewards an occasionally sluggish stride with an indelible mythic odyssey that goes to unexpected places.

Grade: B+

LAMB is now playing in theaters.


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