Most A24 films, including Lamb and its blessing of terror, are directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson, although its flow is slow but poetic. Even though the whole thing is not bad, the director designed the visual to enter the audience. In essence, the visual becomes the audience’s entrance to the picture of feelings. The story of the film is set in a farmhouse in the mountains. With the view of the vast prairie, the gray sky stretches, and the fog always covers the hills, the director repaints the film with an uncomfortable impression.
Apart from the use of dark “colors,” such an atmospheric environment constrains how the concept fulfills the function of the film. Although it is successful, the tone’s function in presenting the whole film is uncomfortable for most audiences. When the two central characters begin to appear in front of the audience, the film depicts the mood of the sheep farming couple, Maria and Ingvar, putting the audience in a vacuum.
For a specific moment, it is not passionate but icy. There are many oddities of absurdism in 2021 films. There are about giving birth to machine children and so on. However, apart from being inspired by Icelandic folklore, Lamb completes such an oddity by presenting a half-human baby lamb. Most audiences think about how the story of a couple adopting a hybrid baby will have various events and discussions. However, under the wing of A24, films from such unknown distributors will have many events in one narrative. Personally, A24 films act as mandatory films when the audience wants to raise tension from such an experience. Such a movie scene can clean up the character by showing a slice of life from the end to the bottom of the screen.
Lamb became a film with a complex setup because of the blessing of terror. The arrangement between narrative events is not too much with a short story. Especially when it comes to dialogue, the film can be an anthology episode of a folklore horror series. The folklore series stories can be Yamishibai, Dekalog, all Junji Ito’s works, etc. On the other hand, the film wants to rush straight into the center of the conflict. However, the film has the heart to linger in making sure the audience feels all the emotional intentions.
It is essential to be honest, never explicitly mention the theme, but give the climax of Maria’s unpleasant past incident. In short, the film informs the audience through “unclear” dialogue by showing Maria and Ingvar talking about miracles or doom. The film makes most of the audience literate with very-very-real scenes. When Maria and Ingvar help a lamb give birth, Ingvar holds the lamb’s body, and Maria pulls the child’s head who is sticking out behind the lamb’s mother; it is not a joy when trying to stay awake from the pace.
When the story ends up on the main menu, lambs give birth. Maria and Ingvar got a thing which made their eyes both open wide. The film is brilliant in not telling the audience something about when Maria brought the baby lamb into the house. Maria bathed the sheep in the bathtub, sleeping in the cot, wrapping the sheep in a blanket, the audience did not feel a strange tingling sensation. Taking some more time, the build-up of the lamb is why. Why is the couple so protective of the lamb where the mama lamb bleeds out of the window and chases the mama lamb away. When the lamb disappeared from the house, Maria and Ingvar panicked to the point of anxiety.
They looked outside the house but never looked to the sheep. By hoping the film starts adding one of those scenes, the couple must have bad memories of the child. A new reality emerges when a new chapter of the story is the next turn. With the arrival of Ingvar’s brother, Petur, to his house, the slap of confrontation drama reveals a shocking yet ridiculous one. Regardless, it depends on how the audience feels in passing almost two magical hours in a nutshell. When all four characters are already in the house, it can be more complex when telling its narrative. Existence is in the world story, not true, but of course, Maria and Ingvar, with pride and smiles, challenged Petur’s understanding. It might be Ingvar cheating on the sheep, considering they do not have neighbors or anything.
Ada, the lamb, in the story, becomes like a minotaur figure, for an interpretation, in Greek legend, symbolizing a death. However, other interpretations say Ada is a half-human being, and an animal acts as a god in their respective countries. In Islam, Ibrahim was tested by Allah to be fully prepared to sacrifice the only one of his sons, Ismail, to be sacrificed as a goat. In the Christian religion, Ada is a symbolism of a bible, symbolizing the wonders of God and acting as innocence and purity.
With all kinds of symbolism, Lamb, in its heart, is a tragic story, sold as horror and blessing of terror, but not limited to horrific events due to ghosts, jumpscares, or serial killers. Horror is a terrible thing, stems from the fear of every human being and a tragic feeling. By playing as two themes, Ingvar and Maria have gone through sad days, especially in the past. When Petur appears, it is implied as acting as a living witness of their domestic life. The lamb is a second chance, do not think if Ada brings a catastrophe or redemption in improving or living the next life.
As noted at the outset, Lamb rarely engages in explicit dialogue in flashbacks of the uncomfortable, a blessing of terror, and silent tension between Maria and Ingvar. The evidence is that they have suffered together, trying to come out of the other side as a different couple, and find it difficult to feel the slightest bit of such dynamic. The audience saw Ingvar’s sadness manifesting focus alternately. He is always optimistic, steadfast, and lives day after day normally.
On the other hand, Maria uses her despair and regret as a shield, although it is not shown as clearly. Both characters have an overwhelming feeling, lost but empty in nuance. Reinforced by the gray palette of Iceland’s vast landscape, Maria’s grief paralyzes the film’s first chapter by telling audiences about the supernatural. However, one important thing is that the two characters do not know such miracles, increasing tension after tension, and also such disputes and debates isolate the character’s grief in a symmetrical unity of expression.
Such revelation comes in the form of a lamb, unaware of how the audience sees the lamb for a specific moment. Apart from the camera showing the surprised reaction of Maria and Ingvar at the beginning, it is strange when the two characters “adopt” the lamb and give it the name Ada. However, there was not a push on such a pair. In other words, there is a difference between the lamb. Ironically, the drama is such a flashback when the couple knows something where the audience does not know such thing either. In the end, the sheep had legs, arms, and torso just like humans.
By becoming a physical representation of blurring the lines between reality and fiction, the mother lamb, the tough sheep, repeatedly bleats outside the nursery window. Being Maria in animal form, she knows exactly where the child is. However, she could not take back a helpless visit from a mother lamb to the nursery. It is lost forever, making an echo of Maria’s visit to her son. She only knows how the lamb does not belong to her or anyone else. However, she felt she could no longer live with such a threat that Ada’s biological mother and one mother were human and could not be a problem. It is one though the same.
According to Jóhannsson, Lamb‘s ending ambiguity lies in the representation of many things. He constantly changes his mind when watching the ending of the film. However, he knows best is Maria’s understanding of opening the “final stage” of sadness completely from the audience. When Maria left the house to take her brother-in-law and her ex-lover Petur to the bus station, it was the second time Maria had cleared her house of a threat. Ingvar takes Ada for a walk across the vast landscape and is shot in the neck by an unseen antagonist when she comes out.
Finally, the audience saw Ada’s biological father, as if Ada had human legs, chest, and arms. He also has a ram’s head like a Minotaur or a Behemoth very horribly. After fatally wounding Ingvar, the sheep father took his daughter’s hand, quietly left, and Maria emerged up the hill to find her husband bleeding on the ground. Instead of clearly showing the conclusion, the director puts Maria by breaking the fourth wall in confusion but repeating the word “it’s okay” as if the lamb did not bring any havoc. However, what Maria saw was Ada and her father leaving the film together.
With such dynamics by Jóhannsson, he builds a story in a very, on the other hand, enjoyable household. While it quickly wears off with not much progress at any one point in time, it is, on the whole, about parenthood, the dominance of human greed over nature, and, the most noticeable, about sadness in protecting selfishness and immediate interests at all costs. It is not the fault of Sjón, the screenwriter, when talking about profound ideas around such a theme. However, Lamb put all the characters in a blessing of terror and on all backbone long but unclear.
By prioritizing tone and aesthetics in exploring meaningful anxiety at heart, the audience cannot avoid strong originality. The film almost makes up for the deep flaws in the film, while also speaking through the foggy lens of Eli Erenson a la Béla Tarr’s work, and it is no coincidence that while Tarr is executive producer, the film’s visual world is soulful and immersive. It uses such a sharper fear when presenting the sheep as a unique feeling when talking about the longing for more peculiarities of Jóhannsson’s hand in the future.
Simply put, the tragedy is that human is hurt. Humans prefer to deal with anything, including a miracle, as unreasonable as making a lamb as their child. While understanding the harsh reality, Lamb somehow exposes its blessing of terror through punishment for the likes of Maria and Ingvar to each audience’s interpretation. It is also applicable to Petur as the reality of the couple’s life. The film is a folk tale full of morals about humans, existence, loss, self-improvement, and beetles. It is humanist, poetic, but very tragic, not only has weight in the gimmick of the spirits of art but tells a story through visuals.
The sin of the film is only in tone, too little, and fails in convincing such symbolism in an appropriate tone. By not playing in a balanced and effective manner, many plot points come into being, none too, by piling up the middle at the end. The setup is a little too empty, and it becomes difficult for the audience to follow the film. In addition to no longer relying on the guidelines available, in the end, the film will be funny and not tragic when watched blindly.
- Douglas, E. (2021). Film Spotlight: Icelandic Filmmaker Valdimar Jóhansson on His Fantasy/Thriller Lamb. Below the Line.
- Lattanzio, R. (2021). ‘Lamb’: How the Nordic Folk Horror Film Pulled Off Its Outlandish Special Effects Twist. IndieWire.
- Pape, S. (2021). Noomi Rapace and Valdimar Johansson on the unique and surrealist drama Lamb. HeyUGuys.