You can always count on A24, the daring darlings of the independent film world, to deliver on their promise to support first-time feature filmmakers and bring unique visions to our screen. The studio’s commercial brand may have become something of an overpriced cliche and the epitome of the infamous film-bro archetype, but it’s hard to deny that their propensity for producing original content and pushing the boundaries of storytelling is impressive. 

With their latest effort Lamb, we see a growing desire from the studio to foray into the foreign language market, as Icelandic director Valdimar Jóhannsson gives life to a most extraordinary and eccentric folk tale. On the surface, reclusive farmers Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) appear to lead a blissful existence, hidden away in a picturesque Scandinavian valley. It soon becomes apparent however, that something is missing from their life – a child. Luckily, that void is filled with the arrival of a half-lamb, half-human hybrid among their flock whom the couple decide to raise as their own.

Sounds crazy, right? Of course it is, but that is absolutely part of the charm and bizarre brilliance of this dark and twisted fable. Personally, I am always keen to see filmmakers being brave and bold with their stories. We as audiences need new and exciting things. We should want to be surprised and shocked. I would rather see a creative team swing for the fences and miss, than play it safe. It made me think of a film like Titane from this year, which is complete balls-to-the-wall madness, unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before. And I respect that. The same applies to Lamb, albeit to a slightly less provocative and violent degree. 

What Jóhannsson and co-writer Sjón have crafted here is a story entirely unencumbered by the restrictions of reality and feasibility. As a writer, it’s not easy to detach yourself from the trepidation of ensuring that the script you are pouring your heart and soul into will be a viable sell for a studio. But it’s clear that this film is exactly the way they intended, and again credit should go to A24 for taking a chance on a story which, on paper, threatens to be polarising and potentially even ridiculous. 

Instead, what we get is a brooding, poignant study of grief, parenthood and the unpredictable cruelty of nature. Not only do we as a viewer need to accept the unimaginable scenes unfolding before our eyes, but we are encouraged to care about this makeshift family. Indeed, once you are over the initially jarring notion of this anthropomorphic being, it’s not long before we truly feel a great emotional attachment to the wellbeing of this child and her adoptive parents. 

The subtle, nuanced performances of both Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason give the film so much room to breathe. They say very little throughout, but we feel every inch of their longing and love for their unorthodox infant. Equally too, we feel every stab of pain from the trauma they have shared in their past. It is in this lingering suffering that we find the most fascinating elements and concepts of the film. 

Noomi Rapace in Lamb (2021)

The tragic context of the couple’s marital strife hangs over them, refusing to lift like the thick, ominous fog which blankets the valley. Whilst the attachment to Ada, their ovine offspring, offers something of a temporary respite, the harmony of this family unit is constantly at risk. Be it the persistent pining of Ada’s birth mother outside the bedroom window, or the arrival of Ingvar’s estranged brother, there is always something or someone threatening to upset the balance. We as the viewer are inclined to root for this domestic dynamic to be protected, but Jóhannsson challenges us to reconsider this as he brings the film to its disquieting conclusion. Should Maria and Ingvar be allowed to disturb the order of nature and take what doesn’t belong to them? Are the desires of a human more important than the maternal rights of an innocent animal? 

I have my own theory as to what the end of this film signifies and indeed, the whole allegorical lesson this story provides. To delve too deep into this would spoil the fantastic surprise that awaits first-time viewers, but Lamb is, simply put, a rich and contemplative portrayal of grief and guilt. It is a film which will surely divide audiences and is very much dependent on both individual interpretation and suspension of disbelief. But it is a film which offers so much thematically, with lots of heart, moments of humour, and an astoundingly well-timed injection of visceral horror.  

Rating: ★★★★

Lamb will be released in the UK on December 10.

Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson
Writer: Valdimar Jóhannsson, Sjón
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson