Out in the hinterlands of Iceland, a married couple is grieving. Some time ago, they lost a child. It has created a noticeable rift in their relationship, even if they continue to spend every waking moment together on the ranch. They are shepherds, and in this remote landscape, all they have is each other. Each other, and the sheep.
A little bit of patience goes a long way in Lamb, the debut feature from Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson. You know something is amiss from minute one but what that is takes time to develop. Using mostly static frames and rigorous compositions, Jóhannsson and cinematographer Eli Arenson disarm while Þórarinn Guðnason’s score provides the ominous drone of fate marching toward Maria (Noomi Rapace), Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), and the newest member of the flock, a little lamb named Ada.
How Ada comes to Maria and Ingvar is a story best left to Lamb. But Ada does come and fills in the gulf between Maria and Ingvar. When Ingvar’s brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), sees what’s going on, he has one question: What is this? Happiness, Ingvar responds.
How Pétur lands on the ranch is another mystery best left to the movie. Lamb has many. It’s not incorrect to say that the great whatsit at the heart of Lamb is supernatural, but it’s not correct either. It’s possibly primeval. Early in the movie, Ingvar reads in the paper that time travel has been discovered. Nobody’s done it yet, but they’ve figured how to do it. Noodle on that when you drive home from Lamb.
Marriage, and the distance between, makes for great drama in horror and horror in great dramas. Lamb is somewhere in between, a slow burner of domestic fracture and doubling with a tickle of the supernatural.
Lamb / Dýrið (2021)
Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson
Written by Sjón, Valdimar Jóhannsson
Produced by Piodor Gustafsson, Hrönn Kristinsdóttir, Sara Nassim, Jan Naszewski, Erik Rydell, Klaudia Smieja
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
A24, Rated R, Running time 106 minutes, Opened Oct. 9, 2021.