LAMB - FILM REVIEW
Rather than joining the herd of A24’s arthouse horror films, it lines up with other recent fantasies about non normative parenthood, such as Annette or Titane. It does not however share the same inquietudes, and rather makes way for a traditionally crafted folktale’s filmic equivalent.
Penned by Sjón, one of the most internationally acclaimed icelandic authors, according to claims by director Vladimar Johannson and himself, Lamb is not a influenced directly by icelandic folklore, although it may seem that the very peculiar lamb-hybrid creature emerged directly from a local fable. The plot itself, very simple, eerie as a Grimm tale, can be perceived as a scary bedside story (minus one more “adult” scene). Therein lies the origins for the horror subtone that affects the film, but not in a pervasive manner as it happened with other A24 films that specifically belong to the horror genre, such as their previous huge nordic-themed venture, Midsommar. Thus, what Sjón and Johannson achieved with Lamb, being an entrely original work, is a new, additional folktale in the vein of tradition, but set in modern days, although, minus the presence of a car, a tractor and a television hardly anything is modern about the setting or the plot. Lambcould be set in a perfectly timeless age and would remain unaltered.
The film, as one might expect, is surrounded by mystery. The ending provides only few answers, and purposefully leaves several doors open. In no way the work feels incomplete, but the conclusion might not meet complete appreciation for the audience. There are some imperfections, such as the completely unneccessary division in three chapters, when the cinematic medium already mostly employs a three act structure, but being a debut feature film, most flaws can be easily overlooked.
An Alumni of Béla Tarr (who is an executive producer of the film), Johannson’s film is rather a mood than a story. Johannson proves to follow several of the tenets of Tarr’s post Damnation filmography. Even though the beginning seems to point at it, eventually it is proven that nothing in the film acts as a symbol (a statement that Tarr often claims for his own films), even if the marketing suggested a christian subtone. Additionally, the pacing, the near-absence of dialogues, the length of angles do feel derivative of Tarr. Even the sense of impending doom (which more than often never leads to a result in Tarr, unlike here) could be seen as a similarity. The soft bluish colouring also leads to a near-monochromatism, a constant in Tarr’s more mature works.
The feeling that rises is that Johannson managed to be inspired by Tarr and at the same time reshape his mentor’s poetics in order to construct a more personal style.
Set in an isolated farm with two main characters and a visitor, much like Tarr’s The Turin Horse, the film exploits the stunning nordic, misty scenery, creating an atmosphere of nordic isolation that has not often been depicted in such a manner, for a full feature film.
Being a very peculiar subject, it is hard to pinpoint the direction that Vladimar Johannson intends to take for his future filmography. Nonetheless, Lamb is at the same time a rather derivative and a unique work that sets on the international scene yet another filmmaker that is worth watching closely.