Film Review: Lamb (2021)

Exploring the darker side of Icelandic folklore, Lamb manages to be gently tragic, comedic and creepy to great effect

“What did he say?
‘Something about folk tales I think…'”

Written by erstwhile Björk collaborator Sjón and Valdimar Jóhannsson (who also directs), Lamb really is one of those films that benefits from knowing as little as possible about it beforehand. We meet Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) as they tend their Icelandic farm in ruminative silence, we understand that they’re dealing with a terrible grief. And beyond that, you really should just watch the film to get wrapped up into its strange but ultimately compelling world.

Something odd happens in their barn and the unexpected consequences are compounded by a questionable decision from the couple. It is one which leads to some happiness for them but of course, nothing is quite that straightforward. The beauty of Jóhannsson’s direction is in the way in which he withholds vital information so that key reveals – when they come – have an initial jolt but through the depth of performance from Rapace and Snær Guðnason, there’s no real surprise at what we now know (for the most part).

Eli Arenson’s cinematography makes great use of the rural, rugged landscape, the choice of long, lingering shots suiting the reflective mood of the film perfectly. And the sound design and Þórarinn Guðnason’s music ensures the atmospherics remain moody and occasionally off-kilter as the abnormal seems to become normal, whilst patently being totally not normal. The cumulative effect is beguiling and whilst I can see how some would find its strangeness and sparseness challenging, it really worked for me.

Rapace and Snær Guðnason are both excellent, working through what might be their trauma in different ways but both utterly convincing as they take us gently by the hand to lead us down this unlikely path. And there’s excellent work from the ever-excellent Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Ingvar’s brother-with-a-pop-star-past Pétur, throwing into question what really is normal or natural after all. An unexpected joy. 

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