“What the hell am I looking at?” You know you’re in an A24 picture when that question comes up more than once. Even by A24 standards, Lamb is one of the studio’s strangest outings, yet also one of its most sedated. The marketing for the film has been all over the place with one trailer sending horror and quirky comedy vibes simultaneously. Lamb isn’t exactly either, but some images will inspire both nightmares and unintentional laughter. Much like the titular lamb, the film is a bizarre beast that not everyone will see the beauty in. Behind the madness, though, Lamb is a thought-provoking experience.
The opening plays out like a silent film set at a secluded farmhouse where Noomi Rapace’s María and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason’s Ingvar reside. Although not said out loud, it’s strongly implied the childless couple has endured multiple miscarriages. They develop an unlikely parental bond with a newborn lamb named Ada. There’s something about Ada that stands out from the rest of the flock, but this isn’t made clear until Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) arrives. To discuss what makes Ada such a special lamb would take us too deep into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that the puppet from Annette is now only this year’s second creepiest movie baby.
As María and Ingvar start to see Ada less like an animal and more like a child, so does the audience. This can in interpreted in a few different ways. We’ve all met a person or couple who treat their pet as their own kin. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s still a line between animal and person that should probably never be entirely crossed. The film could also be an allegory for parents who adopt children from different cultures, stripping them of their backgrounds. Although Ada loves María and Ingvar, even she can sense that she belongs somewhere else.
It’s safe to say that nobody will ever be in the precise position that María, Ingvar, and Ada find themselves in. If you take out Ada’s animalistic nature, though, Lamb functions as a compelling family drama. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Valdimar Jóhannsson, who comes from a special effects background. You wouldn’t expect someone associated with The Tomorrow War, Rogue One, and Transformers: Age of Extinction to helm a quiet arthouse picture. However, Jóhannsson’s effects expertise shines through in Lamb. In addition to puppets, the film showcases some of the most convincing CGI on a limited budget since Ex Machina.
Lamb is best experienced going in blind. The trailer somehow manages to be misleading while also giving away too much. Even if you watch with no expectations, a film like this will never appeal to everyone. For some, it’ll be too weird while others might wish it had gone even further. Ironically, the way every character views Ada reflects the film’s inevitable polarizing response. María and Ingvar see Ada as their angel. Pétur initially views Ada as a misshapen creature that needs to be put down. In time, however, Pétur does come to see Ada as a thing a beauty. Likewise, you might not love Lamb walking out of the theater. After taking some time to reflect, though, you might see the humanity underneath the wool.