Courtesy of IFC Midnight
Movies and television shows about religious cults have become common over the last couple years, with their dystopian settings providing narrative fodder for various projects. The latest is the visually compelling but not that enthralling “The Other Lamb” which marks the English language directorial debut of Malgorzata Szumowska.
Both sluggishly paced and an endurance test in one’s patience, “The Other Lamb” has the benefit of gorgeous cinematography with eerie atmospheric tension yet the screenplay by Catherine S. McMullen is strictly art house fare and considering folks are stuck at home for the foreseeable future, I find it hard to believe a home viewing experience will benefit the movie when folks who get bored easily can simply change the channel. The movie barely registers a message other than blind submission spells bad news for just about anyone and - in the case of this movie – that mainly applies to women.
Not much is told to us about “The Flock” – a group made up of 20 women living in a remote commune in the wilderness. They only answer to “the Shepherd” (Michiel Huisman of “Game of Thrones” fame) who’s sporting the thick mane of Jesus hair and acts like the savior to all their problems. These women worship the ground he walks on, both with their faith and bodies, which is only proven by the vast number of female children brought into the tribe. The little ones don’t know any other life, being hidden at a safe distance from the world and raised under his watchful eye.
The metaphorical other lamb of the story is the teenage Selah (Raffey Cassidy “Tomorrowland”) whose mother died in childbirth. She’s gained notoriety with the Shepherd not just for her looks, but because she’s still “pure” (meaning her body hasn’t started menstruating). It’s not long before a slew of questionable sermons and brief interactions with her “sisters” that Selah begins to question the community’s values and ethics.
When a visit by local law enforcements puts an end to their illegal residency, the Shepherd proclaims the necessity to find a new “Eden” to call home. What ensues is a rather tumultuous journey on foot which only amplifies Selah’s rebellious desires, as it unveils the Shepherd’s true moral compass. Some of his decisions leave a terrible toll on the group, and his cruelty is masked by stark charisma. Huisman, who’s a skilled actor that’s given heft to a variety of smaller scale projects (if you haven’t seen “The Invitation” add it to your Netflix watchlist) he lacks the type of demeanor and towering presences required to sell his viciousness.
It also makes you question the women in this group who we’re told were “broken” when they joined The Flock, seemingly damaged by whatever outside life they had and were willing to place their trust in the hands of some skater boy. The members of this “Sisterhood” don’t seem that spooked by their fearless leader enough for me to believe they would submit themselves to him and, when it really boils down the nitty gritty, most of “The Other Lamb” is devoted to long closeups of characters staring off into the distance, a key art house gimmick that gives the genre a bad name.
Those artistic choices eventually wane on the senses and the filmmakers would have you believe that, deep down, it all means something. The reality is, the Shepherd isn’t all that intimidating and Selah hardly gets the character arch and showdown she deserves with her antagonist. This all builds to one final shot that’s about as frustrating as the movie before it, suggesting that like the women who blindly follow this “parish” – audiences will embrace the unknown and leave their interpretation at the door.
The Other Lamb will be released on premium VOD starting Friday April 3rd