The term Sheeple is given a whole new context in Lamb, the directorial debut from Valdimar Jóhannsson, co-written with Björk collaborator Sjón. Maria and Ingvar (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) are the owners of a farm in Iceland, whose quiet existence is disturbed when one of their sheep give birth to a human child with a lamb’s head. The couple take her in and name her Ada after their late daughter, but soon sinister outside forces threaten to tear them apart.
Befitting the reputation of trendy studio A24 (who gave us Saint Maud, Zola and The Green Knight this year), Lamb aims to be completely outside of anything you’ve seen. Jóhannsson seeks to unnerve you rather than make you jump, focusing on relatively innocent things in such a way as to make them horrifying.
Nature and nurture collide as the plot leads, slowly, to shots and scenes that will draw a gasp. Inventive horror toys with our sense of comfort in concepts such as a mother’s love. This initially innocent beginning hints at the bizarre, before revealing its hand and going for broke. The special effects and visuals (particularly the foreboding Icelandic landscape) are all top notch, and a great example of computer trickery that doesn’t feel phoney.
However, it’s the mind games that make the film, and crucial to this is Rapace, whose performance gives some sense to this jarring tale. The desperation inherent in Maria is the film’s anchor – she is someone desperately clinging to the happiness she thought was never meant to be. Björn Hlynur Haraldsson is also excellent as her brother-in-law, a surprise visitor with dubious intentions.
Lamb so easily could have been an empty creature feature but ends up one of the most intriguing films of the year from a studio that continues to churn out hit after hit.