One of this year's nuttiest films is also this week's Must Watch Movie! LAMB, the directorial debut from Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Johannsson, is a gorgeously atmospheric, wildly wonky pastoral drama that ruminates on parenthood, family and nature, told in the fantastical style of a dreamy folk tale that's just waiting to curdle into something horrific. This is a film that almost dares you to giggle at its deeply oddball central concept (and you WILL giggle), but then twists those giggles into nervous laughter as an unnerving, creeping apprehension takes over, leading to a truly "did that really just happen???" finale.
Noomi Rapace (so good in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason are a childless couple running an isolated sheep farm in rural Iceland. There seems to be an unspoken tension between them, which adds mysterious chills to the opening sequences of the daily routine of a lonely life on the farm. But when a pregnant ewe delivers a little bundle of joy that is neither fully human nor beast, the couple "adopts" it, names it Ada, and their lives begin to transform, seemingly for the better, but probably not. The unexpected intrusion of the husband's wayward, sardonic, former rock star brother (who comes off a bit like the Icelandic version of Nick Offerman) gives the audience a surrogate character through which to view this highly bizarre new family through an outsider's eyes, Wife. Husband. Husband's brother. Lamb baby. What could possibly go wrong?
A strikingly assured first feature, LAMB shares some key tonal elements with an earlier A24 horror film, The Witch, notably a steadily building dread conjured out of long silences, an eerie loneliness and a firm grasp of the dark mysteries of human-animal relations. The spooky, foggy cinematography also recalls the enigmatic style of Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, who not coincidentally is an executive producer here. The wild, vast and lonely beauty of rural Iceland serves as the perfect backdrop for the unhealthy family dynamics that slowly develop in the film, and it's easy to see how this specific landscape could give birth (no pun intended) to the kind of isolated delusions that plague the unhappy couple at the center of the story. And as for Ada, the true star of the film, she's an uncanny creation that is somehow both incredibly ludicrous and strangely touching, and your reaction to her will probably vary based on how much cynicism you bring with you to the movie. A highly original take on the anxieties of parenthood, LAMB is a cuckoo fairy tale in which nature plus nurture yields a nightmare.