A childless couple, María and Ingvar discover a mysterious newborn on their farm in Iceland. The unexpected prospect of family life brings them much joy, before ultimately destroying them.

Two farmers care for a unique newborn like their own child in Lamb. Maria () and Ingvar () are a married couple who live on a sheep farm in the mountains of Iceland. As the sheep give birth to their lambs in the spring, one is born with very unique traits and Maria and Ingvar decide to raise the lamb in their home, naming it Ada. However, this familial happiness is disrupted by the sudden arrival of Ingvar's brother Pétur (), who is disturbed by the couple's closeness to this animal.

Lamb is the debut feature film from Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson, which can best be described as a darkly fantastical drama with some thriller elements. The film kicks off during the Christmas season, as some unknown entity enters the stables of this mountain-side farm. A few months later sheep farmers Maria and Ingvar are surprised by the birth of a very unique lamb, who they use to fill the void left by their own lost child. However, despite their life with “Ada” bringing the couple happiness, they will soon learn that you do not mess with the laws of nature.

I'm going to start by addressing A24's marketing for Lamb, with one of the taglines for the film being “a new breed of horror.” I am going to go full stop right now and say that Lamb is NOT a horror film, at least not in the traditional sense. While there are some scenes that can be interpreted to have horror elements, such as the stark whiteness of the foggy landscape, a dream involving sheep with glowing eyes or the mysterious off-screen entity that sets the plot into motion. However, it is almost a disservice to lump Lamb into the horror genre, since it uses its fantastical plot to provide a character study of a couple who find a new beginning for themselves with the arrival of the titular lamb into their lives.

Even though the marketing doesn't exactly hide it, I have decided not to delve too deeply into what makes the lamb Ada so unique, since it is not something that the film reveals until the end of its first of three chapters. However, I will say that it is something that places Lamb well into the realm of fantasy and folklore. I would also argue that the film plays somewhat with viewer motivations, particularly when it comes to the character of Pétur, who almost seems like he may be a disrupting antagonist, but turns out to be a much more complicated character. In fact, Lamb ultimately benefits from having a small cast, so we can easily get to know them over the course of the film. That said, most viewers will probably automatically gravitate towards Maria, if only for the fact that Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Prometheus) is the most recognizable of the three central cast members.

Once again, I am going to emphasize that those going into Lamb expecting a horror film that will “shake you to your core” are probably not going to get what they are expecting. However, the film is still a quite solid folktale of a couple desperate for a family, no matter what the consequences.

Lamb opens on Friday, October 8, 2021

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.