A blurred, indistinct, forbidding landscape, the livestock huddled against the wind and the snow, each other is all they have against the cruel indifference of nature, the same way humans hold together against hardship. Maria and Ingvar, a childless couple, work the land beneath the jagged mountains, tend to their flock of sheep, finding themselves midwives to what they choose to accept as a miracle come the spring thaw and lambing season.
Ingvar’s unreliable brother, Pétur, an unexpected hiding out from his latest undisclosed debacle, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, sees it differently, a freakshow dressed as a child, Ada, the deformed offspring of one of the sheep who Maria and Ingvar treat as a daughter, letting her sleep in a crib by their bed, reading her bedtimes stories and encouraging her to eat with them at the table.
Their relationship almost wordless, bound together by obligation and their adoration of the lamb, Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) spends his days in the fields while Maria (Noomi Rapace) tends to the chimeric Ada with devotion bordering on obsession, dressing her in a crown of blooming flowers, the initial outrage of Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) evaporating as Ada casts the same spell upon him as her adoptive parents.
A religious symbol associated with peace, forgiveness and divinity, Lamb is directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson from a script co-written with novelist Sjón, set in the remote wilds of Iceland, tied to the bleak landscape but shaped by the old gods as much as Ada herself, the sheep looking up from their warm shelter within the barn first with expectation then consternation as heavy footsteps echo through the dark.
A unnatural yet successful hybrid as much as Ada herself, part horror film, part abstract meditation on relationships, Lamb could be seen as an argument that how animals are treated should be no different than how humans are treated, but it as much as it is about acceptance it is also about revenge, Pétur growing from his initial reaction but unable to change who he is, Maria’s claiming of Ada as her own an ugly seed which will grow and shape her future.
Too cold and sodden to even be described as a slow burn, Lamb is oddly mesmerising in its stilted beauty but despite the meandering path it takes through the pasture after a while the fields all look largely the same and despite the deviations the circuitous route eventually arrives at the destination towards which it was obviously always headed.
Lamb is on general release from Friday 10th December