Valdimar Johannsson’s debut feature, Lamb, is a chilling Icelandic tale.
Starring Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Guonason, this reserved couple live in isolation on their sheep farm, tucked away in a rural valley surrounded by steep rocky mountains.
The landscape provides one of the most beautiful looking movies of 2021 but the frigid atmosphere permeates haunting echoes of a traumatic past. We slowly learn that this childless couple has had trouble growing their family.
But unexpectedly, something truly inconceivable conceives a Christmas miracle.
We arrive in this Icelandic valley just in time for Christmas but things immediately aren’t right. Through a dense snowstorm, we follow along with the POV of an unknown entity with low beastly breaths and a slow and heavy gait powers through the thick snowfall before arriving at a barn full of sheep. Inside we bear witness to the anonymous male sounding entity scanning the flock of sheep inside the barn before cutting to one sheep emerging from the pens, falling on her side. It’s up to you to decode what this all implies but it all becomes clear eventually.
Flash forward a short time into the future and the chosen sheep mother to be, gives birth but not to just any normal sheep, it’s a lamb-child hybrid, not revealed to us for quite some time. The reveal doesn’t provide the same shock a movie like Eraserhead produced, it instead goes in the opposite direction, one of unconditional embrace. Without any hesitation, Maria and Ingvar care for the child who they name Ada.
The movie’s two major reveals never feel shocking in any way, which I had issues with at first because I’ve become so used to being shocked by cinematic abnormalities juxtaposed within seemingly normal stories. But I’ve grown to accept and love these decisions that perfectly fit the movie’s tone. We’re never meant to gawk at Ada, the lamb-child hybrid, we’re meant to adore and care for the child, just as Maria and Ingvar do.
Shortly after life with Ada is under way, the estranged and presumed troubled brother of Ingvar shows up to stay with the family. Along with him, comes this subtle hostility that occasionally threatens the family’s new life but at the same time he partially fills a reluctant uncle role. Things start to look up, the couple has found new meaning in their lives and fun times are shared. You start to feel their happiness.
But there remains this unexplained omnipresence of Ada’s origins lingering in this valley.
And just as quickly as things turned around for the better, they were snatched away with the snap of a finger and the pull of a trigger, revealing Ada’s biological father to be this large Ram-Man hybrid from Origins Unknown. Is he some sort of devil? Is he some sort of scientific experiment? A Mythological Creature? Who knows really. It’s the second major reveal and it also fits the movie’s somber tone. We know it’s been hanging around close by, doing who knows what but you can never comfortably sense when he might finally make himself known and reveal his intentions. Those intentions appear to be nothing more than to use Maria and Ingvar as temporary guardians before picking his daughter up from this makeshift daycare and heading back into the unknown.
Ada is ultimately whisked away by her biological father after shooting Ingvar in the neck with his own gun, then disappearing into the Icelandic wilderness, as quickly and quietly as they arrived. The last images of the two, hand in hand, returning to the spectacular but haunting landscape. While some answers come to fruition, more questions are left in the wake of their departure leaving Maria all alone in an even heavier aura of heartbreak than before.