Review: The whimsical absurdity of ‘Lamb’

Icelandic horror film proves to be a thrilling experience for viewers

Mason Hickok, Web Editor

Those familiar with the aesthetic of an A24 film will find that “Lamb,” Valdimar Jóhannsson’s debut feature, checks most of those boxes. Nefarious farm animals inhabit this Icelandic farm. A family leading a modest life as sheep farmers in the shadow of an enormous mountain that towers over their simple existence are our cast. The setting in “Lamb” plays heavily in the film’s third-act hysteria and myth. But, “Lamb” is also an ode to grief, nature and destruction. 

Iceland is the backdrop for this cold, soft narrative. With a restrained, tightly-cast film, “Lamb” implements several intersecting themes that permeate throughout its one-and-a-half-hour runtime. The couple in the film, Maria and Ingvar, are noticeably drifting away from one another. Their brief exchanges at the dinner table are about the only time the two speak. Something has happened that has affected their trust and solace in the other: something expecting parents unfortunately go through when bringing new life into the world. A pervading sense of “what happens next” is layered throughout the picture. Not until a pregnant sheep delivers the very thing that will likely save this family – or so one thinks. 

“Lamb” wears many hats, possibly to its detriment, but it excels at one thing: atmosphere. 

Amidst the icy skies of their now idyllic farm life, a score and brilliant sound design grind at this family’s every waking move. The otherworldly nature of the spaces around them give way for moments of dread and existentialism. An early conversation on time travel, while slightly trite, only adds to the film’s curiosities.

As the second act begins, the viewer is allowed a glimpse at the film’s primary objective. This lamb is given a name, Ada. Again, one might wonder about the significance of the name. “Lamb” leaves room for the viewer to question, which was something I really appreciated. The film requires a great deal of trust and assurance from the viewer – odd to think when this was something Maria and Ingvar struggled with in the beginning. Maria’s longing for happiness leaves Ingvar to wait for the inevitable repercussions of their actions. 

With several oddities that stand out — such as its ruminations on parental love balance of dark comedy and the absurd — “Lamb” is by no means an easy film to watch. Its content is both disturbing and whimsical. Several times I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. Though, I experienced a weird sense of attachment to this family’s brief encounter with happiness.

In the big picture, the arrival of Ada is a vehicle of sorts, one that Maria, Ingvar and even the viewer can attach to. For us, “Lamb” is a darkened trip through new waters, an experience that warms you for a moment, then rips you apart. To Maria and Ingvar, it’s a twisted, necessary vehicle to grieve. To them, I would gather that “Lamb” was their way of finding balance in their upheaval. 

Content warning: nudity, graphic depictions of animal birthing and brief scenes of blood and gore.

This film is currently in the midst of its limited theatrical release.