National Post (Latest Edition)
Woolly ending mars otherwise intriguing New Zealand horror flick
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snaer Gu∂nason Director: Valdimar
Jóhannsson Duration: 1 h 46 m Available: In theatres
There comes a point in every film where one of three things has happened: The movie has explained itself; the movie has made it clear it’s going to explain itself; the movie has run out of time and clearly won’t be explaining itself.
Most popular entertainment falls into category one. So this James Bond fellow is an MI6 spy? Got it!
Lamb, from Icelandic director Valdimar Jóhannsson, lands very firmly in category three. Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Guonason play Maria and Ingvar, a married couple running a sheep farm in a remote mountainous region of the country. One day, one of their flock births an aberration, as evidenced by the wide-eyed response from the farmers. They’ve never seen anything like this.
But they’re stolid, nurturing types, and they swaddle the newborn, bring it inside their home, name it Ada and do their best to raise it. For the longest time we only see it from the neck up. It looks sheepish enough, a regular lamb. It’s not.
Jóhannsson takes his sweet time revealing any details about the creature, all the while letting the film’s sense of dread swell. It helps that the couple, though clearly content, say little, while the camera roams around at animal eye level, sometimes pausing to take in the doleful glare of a sheep.
They’re the perfect creature for horror films — familiar to most of us but not on a daily basis, large enough to be dangerous, smart enough to be unpredictable, and with those glassy, hard-toread eyes. It’s no wonder New Zealand gave us the 2006 comedy horror film Black Sheep, and that Robert Eggers put a very similar goat in 2015’s The Witch.
Iceland has delivered sheepish stories before, notable the gentle 2015 comedy Rams, recently remade in Australia. But there’s nothing funny about Lamb. The film opens with a long scene of wild ponies caught in a snowstorm. Later, the couple’s idyllic existence is interrupted by the arrival of Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), who turns out to have something of a history with both of them. When he demands to know what the deal is with the creature sharing their home, Ingvar replies simply: “It’s happiness.”
The film goes far on its icy, moody tone, and the concluding scene is something of a shocker. The whole edifice has the feeling of a lost fairy tale, something dreamed up a thousand years ago by one of the island’s early bards. And maybe it’s asking too much for a Rod Serling type to step in and wrap up the tale. So if you’re fine with a little ambiguity as the closing credits roll, Lamb might be the dish you’re seeking. ★★1/2