Time to take this film out to pasture.
Is it even a year if A24 doesn’t release an art-house horror film with a crazy ending genetically engineered in a lab to get people talking? This is a question that I’ve begun to ask myself as I’ve counted the seemingly endless amount of horror films this company releases annually. This year’s entry, Lamb, is an Icelandic folk story released under the guise of a horror film. But the only horrific thing in this movie is what this director does with the audience’s time.
I consider myself an educated viewer of cinema. My student loan debt from
an accredited university film school might even suggest I have developed a certain set of skills directly suited to watching movies like this. I’ve been trained to derive meaning from even the most obtuse affairs. But boy did Lamb give my patience a beating. This film is slow. Even by European standards. But what some might consider boring, I took as the movie being on its own radio frequency, requiring the viewer to tune to its station. Paranormal Activity might be the most famous example of this, successfully lulling viewers into such a state of normalcy, the mere creak of a bedroom door is enough to send the audience into a panic when it finally hits. Remarkably Paranormal Activity reset the mainstream pacing threshold for what audiences expect from horror. And Lamb presents itself as a film that desperately wants to be the beneficiary of that patience.
It would be an understatement to say that little to nothing happens during the first hour of Lamb. Long, lugubrious shots and methodical camera work paired with an ominous soundtrack mostly comprised of low-frequency hums and drones do wonder at creating an air of unease, keeping viewers on their toes for a considerable amount of time. Until you start to realize that nothing is in fact coming and that all this dread that we’ve been experiencing has been that of our own making. The work of a trusting audience waiting, nay, believing that the filmmakers will honor the promise of this movie’s potential with some kind of cinematic payoff for all this mounting tension. But we’ll get to that in a second.
The movie is almost impossible to discuss without spoilers so from here on out, there be spoils ahead. A word of warning. One of the only redeeming aspects of this movie is experiencing the ending for the first time. If you wish to deny yourself this gift, Or if you’ve already seen it, proceed. You’ve been warned.
The movie follows Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) and María (Noomi Rapace) a husband and wife struggling to maintain a farm while dealing with familial trauma only hinted at until it’s not. The movie spends such an inordinate amount of time sidestepping the specificities of what’s happened between them that I mistook it for artistic integrity, leaving the audience to devise our own meaning based on the context clues and crumbs doled out over the course of the movie’s languid narrative. The movie gives you time, oh does it give you time, to consider every possibility, every clue, and every frame, for any ounce of meaning that might lurk just below the surface of a smile, or gesture. Only for the film to explicitly answer this question way past the point we have stopped searching for the answer, or even worse, caring. The movie does this with a number of plot points. Create a mystery for the audience to solve. Build interest. Abandon subplot. Repeat until credits.
The movie kicks off after María decides to take in a baby lamb that seemingly shares part of its torso with a Human Body. The movie sidesteps answering why this creature exists and with the aforementioned snail pacing, the audience is left with nothing but time to devise our own theories about whether this is, in fact, a literal abomination created by her husband’s sexual dalliance with a sheep, or whether this is merely an artistic metaphor. Embossing their unfulfilled parental desires onto something that’s not theirs, though they wish it to be.
I was in the latter camp not taking the lamb / human hybrid baby to be a literal creature as much as the movie using magical realism to put a genre twist on a family drama exploring a couples trauma in a unique way to elevate the film above the simple kitchen sink drama this might have otherwise been. That is until the movie’s final moments. When, and I shit you not, a half-human half sheep monster shoots Pétur in the neck with a gun (the gun used earlier in the film to kill the Lamb’s mother mind you), and takes the abomination lamb child back. Back to where? I don’t know. We never see the origin of this Minotaur-esk creature. It merely pops up at the end of act three with no warning whatsoever. My words can’t do justice to how absurd this ending appears in person. You must absolutely experience this with your own eyes. If you haven’t seen it and have just had the ending spoiled with this review, I’d still suggest watching it to see this audacity first hand. This ending is not only non-sensical, it cannibalizes any of the themes the movie had been building over the course of the film for a shock ending designed to be talked about amongst a small number of cinéastes. This might be enough to Revoke a film outright but the biggest insult was the resounding slap to the face of our time when the director himself revealed he doesn’t know what the ending means either. In several articles, the director himself has stated he has changed his mind a couple of times on what the ending is supposed to mean. I’m sorry, but this is supposed to be a film, not the world’s most expensive interpretive dance class. Does it even matter what the audience takes away from a story if the director doesn’t know what they were saying in the first place? Filmmaking is a medium of communication, and this son of a b***h was gifted the time, the resources, and the platform to tell a story to an audience, and the twist ending is he didn’t even know what his story was trying to say?!
Yes, this deserves to die and I hope it burns in hell! (-1/5)