Synopsis: Icelandic farmers adopt a mysterious daughter. (Streaming on Amazon Prime and Showtime as of June 9, 2022)
How can people and ram-men be so messed up? Most importantly, what will happen to little Ada? (More on Ada in a minute…)
Lamb takes place in Iceland, a peaceable country with zero to one and a half murders a year.(I hope the person who was half-murdered recovered.) Director Valdimar Jóhannsson and co-screenwriter Sjón take aim at that statistic in Lamb, a sort of twisted folktale.
Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmar Snær Gudnason) are farmers-shepherds in northern Iceland. There are no neighbors for many miles. I’m not sure what sort of crops they grow, but they ride around on tractors a lot. I knew the mystery crop couldn’t be bananas or weed with the frosty climate. My money’s on potatoes.
Much of the time they are bringing hay to the sheep who are crammed into a barn where they have nothing to do but stare at each other. Maria and Ingvar don’t speak much. When they are face to face at meals they stare at each other between bites. One day Ingvar offers time travel as a conversational gambit. He wonders about going into the future. Maria says, with choked hope, “Or back to the past.” Ah, broad hints that they were happy once, but tragedy came to pass.
Quick aside… did you know that there are Icelandic legends of elves and trolls? Maybe you have seen Disney’s Frozen and already know this. The little “hidden people” or Huldufólk live an agrarian lifestyle and mind their own business. They will cause mischief if, say, you build a road or big box store on their mini-farms. At Christmas time, the Icees (Icelandic people) leave out food for the elves. Perhaps the trolls do not celebrate Christ’s nativity. Hopefully, Santa is not a glutton; eating the mini-cookies too.
Christmas seems glum for Maria and Ingvar owing to some cruel stroke of fate and perhaps the fact that it is just the two of them in the middle of nowhere. In the darkness we see a supernatural presence moving with the wind. We hear some tromping and grunting from this creature who has come from the mountains. Or perhaps some underground scene in Reykjavík. Whatever it is spooks some roaming horses and ventures into the sheep barn. The sheep are very frightened by what they see.
Fast forward to Spring and lambing season. I did some research for this post and learned that ewes come into season just once a year and give birth to a single lamb. But domestication has forced sheep into producing two or even three offspring at a time. But how to provide milk and care for them? Well, sadly, about eighty percent of sheep farmers’ income is from meat production. I thought sheep were raised only to make wool for those cute Icelandic sweaters! But the lambs are slaughtered in the summer 😦
Lamb shows us actual birthings of lambs instead of staging the births with puppets. We see lambs come into the world, and struggle to stand while their mothers lick them clean. All is per usual for Maria and Ingvar as they help with deliveries. But during one birth, the couple gasp at what they see. The camera stays on their faces, so we can only imagine. Maria swoops over with a blanket, bundling the lamb and whisking the little one away to the house where she quickly prepares a bottle of milk. Meanwhile the sheep mom is like: Where is my lamb?!
When Ingvar returns to the house, a look passes between them, assenting to hand raise the lamb. But why? Okay, mild spoiler because this is early in the movie… Their lamb-child, is, literally, a lamb child. She has a lamb head and right front leg, while the rest of her body is human. They name her Ada and she is very darling. She sleeps in a crib in the couple’s room and they talk to her, dote on her and dress her in baby clothes. Ada is curious and intelligent. There is one lovely scene where the adoptive mother and Ada are outside and Maria is making her a flower crown. But Maria isn’t really an adoptive mother, she’s a kidnapper– or rather lambnapper. On one hand, this is good because we know that Ada will not be turned into lamb hotdogs like the 100% sheep, but her birth mother is desperate for her return. She leaves the other sheep in the pasture and bleats outside the window. Maria resents this and yells at her to get away.
In an ideal world, Child Protective Services and the humane society would get involved. But here, the couple are left to their own devices, as they are far from prying eyes. It seems clear that a ram-man fathered the lamb-child, and we can sense that he is aggressive. We begin to feel his presence resurface. We can tell that he doesn’t approve of the humans. Well, Ram-Man, how did you expect this to go? Ada’s human body is too delicate to live with the sheep herd and her agile mind takes to the human care. Ram-Man is a beast and it seems that, morally, Ada should at least be spending some time with her birth mom.
There are a couple of other witnesses to the madness. A tabby cat struts around, not judging the humans because they reckon humans are bizarre anyway. The border collie (the dog actor’s name is Panda) spends time with little Ada whilst the parents are busy tractoring around over the mystery crop fields. I bet doggo knows the situation is messed up.
I was worried about Ada because she has all these different claims on her. In one heart rending scene, she looks at herself in a mirror, and then regards a painting on the wall of a herd of sheep being driven. Where could her place possibly be? <Tearssss!>
I wished that the movie had explored the story of innocent Ada and how her hybridness affected her– with no clear world to be a part of. But it is a horror movie and Ram-Man will become impatient while Maria gets fed up with Ada’s birth mother always trying to reach “her” daughter.
As if things aren’t complicated enough, Ingvar’s PoS brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) shows up out of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. We see him basically tossed on the roadside, then his former associates zip away. Apparently he has a history of malingering and general f**kery. He makes his way to the farm, which had been in the family. Ingvar is glad to see him. Over the next few days, he drinks, refuses to do any farm work and comes onto Maria. Clueless Ingvar privately tells his brother that he can stay as long as he likes. That same night, while Maria and Ingvar get ready for bed, she asks: When will he leave?
As for Ada, Pétur is horrified, saying that she is an animal. The couple tell him that she is a gift and has brought them happiness. Meanwhile, Ram-Man has been clandestinely watching the goings-on. I was hoping he would knock Pétur on his ass when he wanders outside to smoke a cigarette. Tension builds and it seems that the country’s murder rate could double or treble at any moment.
Lamb will have you fretting over the lamb-child and shaking your fist at the foolish humans and Ram-Man. And it will convince you to not wander too far afield from Reykjavik if you visit Iceland. If you do, beware of surly animal-human hydrids. And take care to not step on any elves or their miniature houses.
P.S. Check out the Movie Loon review for another fantastic movie distributed by A24, The Witch
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Spooky and original.
Humor Highlight: The old music video that Maria, Ingvar &Petur watch.