Lamb Synopsis: In rural Iceland, a childless couple (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) discovers a strange and unnatural newborn in their sheep barn. They decide to raise her as their own, but sinister forces are determined to return the creature to the wilderness that birthed her.
While Blumhouse and The Conjuring Universe dominate the horror sphere, A24 has quietly carved out its own artistic niche in the subgenre. Unsettling offerings such as The Lighthouse, It Comes At Night, and Midsommar skillfully match their distinctive frights with resonant meditations on the human condition. The studio’s illustrious resume and timely marketing have successfully escalated boundary-pushing scare-fests into commonplace fixtures in mainstream theaters (most of A24’s highest-grossing films are in horror).
A24 looks to continue their win streak with Valdimar Jóhannsson’s writing/directorial debut Lamb. As a longtime special-effects technician (he’s credited working on 2021’s The Tomorrow War), Jóhannsson showcases the moody atmosphere and precise imagery of a skilled auteur. His film may look the part, but Lamb’s plodding and thematically vacant execution leaves little to grasp onto.
Even with Lamb not operating on all cylinders, Jóhannsson has conjured an inspiring concept to watch unwind. The writer/director works at his best when leaning into the abstract bizarreness of his premise, with the aging lamb presenting an ominous backdrop for the film’s wandering pace to unravel. Jóhannsson’s fittingly dreary imagery and steady framing further escalate the unease – setting up a promising canvas for ruminations on parenthood, humanity vs. nature, and the foreboding ways emotional detachment unravels.
I would go deeper into the film’s promising ideas, but merely listing them is about as far as Lamb delves into its themes. Jóhannsson’s script mistakes laborsome dialogue exchanges and moody shots for a substantive purpose. Meandering movies are right up my alley, especially when there is a semblance of thematic identity behind them. In the case of Lamb, Jóhannsson crafts a precise film in terms of craft yet totally listless in its pursuit of meaningful subtext.
Without meaningful textures, Lamb struggles to spin its surrealism into an engaging experience. Stars Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason do their best to imbue gravity into their roles as an emotionally distant couple diverging down different pathways. Despite the performances, Jóhannsson’s script fails to give these characters agency. The duo maintains a somber complexion that doesn’t represent much past abject misery – resting too much narrative weight on atmosphere and surrealist shock without genuine followthrough. I struggle to even find a genre distinction for the film, as its lack of scares and thoughtful insights leave Jóhannsson’s film in an awkward no-man land.
Lamb is admirable in its inventive concept and noble pretenses, but Jóhannsson’s feature meanders through its premise without developing genuine weight. Still, I would always prefer to watch a well-intended hit-or-miss than most of the blah sludge coming out of mainstream theaters.