[Screen It]


(2021) (Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) (R)

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Drama/Horror: Married farmers living in a remote part of Iceland must contend with the arrival of an unusual newborn and what that means for them and their future.

María (NOOMI RAPACE) and Ingvar (HILMIR SNAER GUDNASON) are married farmers in a remote part of Iceland. Their hard work and relatively mundane life end up interrupted by an unusual birth in their barn. Seeing the uniqueness of a newborn lamb, they take it from its mother and raise it like a child, naming the girl Ada. But we eventually see the reason for their attraction as the newcomer is half-sheep, half-human, something that's quite startling to Ingvar's brother, Pétur (BJÖRN HLYNUR HARALDSSON), when he shows up.

Pétur initially believes he must do something about what he views as a monstrosity, but then has a change of heart and views Ada as part of his family. But lurking in the background of all of that is the reality of what's transpired and that eventually shows itself to the farming couple.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

There are horror movies that are right in your face regarding exactly what they are. You know, like boogeyman-slasher films where a boogeyman, well, um, does a lot of slashing. Others are more nuanced with their frights and often arrive in the form of haunted house (or other environs) tales where there's far less chasing and stabbing and more things that go bump in the night (and in one's head). And then some are just so weird and hard to grasp, that you might respond by asking "What the (bleep) is this?"

Not that surprisingly, that's the exact reaction of one character when he shows up and sees the unusual situation in A24's latest artsy horror flick, "Lamb." As directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson from a script he co-wrote with Sjón (a.k.a. Icelandic poet and novelist Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson), the film begins with the point of view of someone -- or something -- walking through the cold, remote environs of Iceland's bleak but beautiful countryside.

The unseen figure can only be heard through its heavy, near-monstrous sounding breathing, but a pack of wild horses want no part of whomever or whatever it is and get out of Dodge (or, more accurately, somewhere in the vicinity of Reykjavik).

We then meet childless couple María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) who live what appears to be a hard, harsh, and repetitive farm life accompanied only by their indoor cat, sheepdog "Dog," and lots of lambs. There's very little dialogue in these early scenes that Jóhannsson infuses with loads of sometimes beautiful but at others, unsettling visuals.

It's birthing season for the ewes and after the couple helps deliver a few of the baby lambs, out comes one that's so striking (we only see the head at first) that María's maternal instincts kick into high gear, Ingvar gets an old baby crib out of the barn, and the newly named Ada is being cradled like an infant, fed with a bottle, and ends up sleeping in the house with them.

Then arrives Ingvar's brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), who unceremoniously shows up, lays eyes on Ada, and proceeds to drop the aforementioned F-bomb question. Without missing a beat, his sibling smiles and simply replies, "Happiness." Being a horror flick where the ground has already been set for something bad to follow, we know that blissful state isn't going to remain intact through the film's 100-some minute running time.

And the director takes a long time in revealing both that and exactly what's caused the reaction. At that point, you either buy into what's being fed to you and decide to go along for the ride and see where things are headed or you roll your eyes, repeat Pétur's line of dialogue, and proceed to walk away from the screen. I found myself in the middle, sticking around only due to the hypnotic, sort of fairy tale trance that Jóhannsson and cinematographer Eli Arenson have cast over us, along with the minimalistic yet powerful performances from the two leads.

I'll readily admit that I'm still not sure what it's all supposed to mean. Is it a testament to unconditional parental love? A cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for? Some sort of perverse, bestiality fetish flick? The lack of a definitive answer will annoy some viewers, while others will appreciate the "art is open to individual interpretation" approach taken by the filmmakers.

There's no doubt, though, that while just one F-bomb shows up in the film, it's likely lots of them will be dropped by a bevy of viewers both during and after the flick, wondering what the (bleep) they're seeing or just sat through. Unusual and frustrating but provocative and mesmerizing, "Lamb" rates as 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 4, 2021 / Posted October 8, 2021

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