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film review

Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Noomi Rapace in a scene from Lamb.Courtesy of A24

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  • Lamb
  • Directed by Valdimar Johannsson
  • Written by Valdimar Johannsson and Sjon
  • Starring Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and a lamb
  • Classification R; 106 minutes
  • Available in theatres starting Oct. 8

In honour of the worldwide success of Netflix’s Squid Game, let’s play Lamb Game. As in: describe the new Icelandic horror film Lamb without spoiling what the new Icelandic horror film Lamb is actually about.

It’s tricky. I suppose if you guess, “Um, something to do with a lamb …?” you’d be right. Partially. But there is also a line of dialogue tucked into Lamb’s script that more accurately gets at the film’s bones, and marrow. It is uttered when the childless and quiet farmer Maria (Noomi Rapace) is watching television, and asks her similarly tight-lipped husband Ingvar (Hilmir Saer Gudnason) to repeat what one character just said onscreen: “Something about folk tales, I think.”

Lamb is something like a folk tale, Iceland-icized: dark, mysterious, with a creeping sense of dread, and a moral lesson that may or may not work, depending on your tolerance for CGI surprises.

With its release this weekend from A24, Lamb joins a long line of indie-cool pretty-horror from the U.S. distributor. And when the film works – such as its early scenes capturing disturbed barnyard behaviour, as well as the passages documenting the day-to-day routines of Maria and Ingvar – director Valdimar Johannsson’s debut crawls under your skin before worming its way into your heart. But then … something … happens, and you either buy into Lamb’s parenting-is-hell conceit or you don’t.

A few elements help ease the film’s outrageousness, including Rapace and Saer Gudnason’s skills at sinking into their loving and perhaps overly committed family unit. And Eli Arenson’s cut-through-the-fog cinematography lends the couple’s rural homestead a beautiful uneasiness. But Johannsson’s film also entrusts its audience with caring about a character that is brought to life through some truly wobbly puppetry and visual effects – a combination so aesthetically shaky that the result may well be intentionally bad. But if Johannsson aimed to make a point about, perhaps, the reality parents want to see versus the reality they’re presented with, then it’s muddied in execution.

And then there’s the ending, which arrives like a parody of an A24 horror movie. More Tusk than, say, the goat who runs wild in The Witch. I won’t make the obvious joke and say it’s baaad. But its sheep thrills are mutton to write home about, either.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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