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Monday, September 27, 2021

[Fantastic Fest Review] A24’s ‘Lamb’ Takes Earnest Approach to Oddball Folk Tale

The opening scene makes it clear that guessing where Valdimar Jóhannsson’s feature debut will head makes for an exercise in futility. The suggestive depravity of it sets up something far more rooted in horror than what transpires. Instead, Lamb plays like a quiet, often bleak folk tale that’s tonally all over the map but approached with an infectious earnestness.

Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) live a peaceful, uncomplicated life running their sheep farm in the Icelandic countryside. They spend their days running through the chores without much conversation, but it occasionally seems like Maria wants to say something. Just what that unspoken chasm between the couple might be comes in the form of a strange hybrid lamb birthed by one of their sheep. With a passing glance, Maria and Ingvar decide to take the lamb child, named Ada, into their home to raise it as their own.

Jóhannsson, who co-wrote the script with Sjón, relays the strange saga of Ada over three chapters. The couple faces unique problems with raising a lamb hybrid, like judgmental siblings or a sheep mother who longs for the baby taken from her. Mostly, though, it’s content to quietly ruminate on how Ada’s presence affects the central couple. 

What confuses is the strange tone. There’s an underlying sadness fueling Lamb, but Jóhannsson consistently manages to inject dread, too. The happier Maria and Ingvar seem to become, the certainty that the other shoe will drop is a constant threat, but without enough substantial clues to surmise what will cause the house of cards to fall.

Rapace’s character bears many secrets, and Lamb wants you to parse those out through nonverbal cues. There’s an entire backstory to the human characters only hinted at or dangled, but these Icelanders don’t communicate well, so much of it is left to the viewer to connect the dots. It helps that Ada, a lamb head and limb composited with a young child actor, is adorable. The nonverbal coos and body movements make it easy to see why Rapace’s Maria would immediately take to the precious baby.

The rustic simplicity of Jóhannsson’s debut only adds to the strangeness of it all. It’s straightforward yet constantly dangles the potential for a massive genre narrative shift that never truly arrives. Ada’s presence never ceases to remain obscure and mysterious; she’s simply a sweet, endearing gift. Lamb dabbles in horror briefly but stays content to spend time in a quaint little folk tale open to interpretation.

Questions still linger after the credits roll, but Jóhannsson’s approach seems to suggest that, like Maria, perhaps you should be content with what you get. While Lamb may not fully satisfy on a narrative level, it does succeed as an experience. Rapace is the precise actor to lead an oddball movie like this, and the emotional beats resonate. Even if it can be challenging to grasp the peculiarities fully, Ada tugs at your heartstrings, and Lamb sweeps you up in its melancholic mood.

Lamb releases in theaters on October 8, 2021.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3684477/fantastic-fest-review-a24s-lamb-takes-earnest-approach-oddball-folk-tale/

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