Lamb — an unsettling Icelandic film-fable

The title character of the majestically weird Icelandic one-off Lamb is not the only animal whose wordless gaze helps tell the story. A crucial part is played too by a tabby cat, peering unconvinced at the human cast as if to ask: “Are you sure about this?”

This unfolds in a scene of rural isolation, a spartan doll’s house of a sheep farm set among mist-cloaked hills, worked by a married couple. (They are played by Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason.) If modernity flashes up here and there — a pop video, a bus to Reykjavik — much about director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s film has the timeless feel of the ancient folk tale you feel it must be, but isn’t.

Everything changes with the birth of a lamb. Nothing could be more humdrum, of course, but now the couple look, pause and silently take the newborn into the house. A cot is made up. A family unit takes shape. It is only later we see — and here a spoiler warning is needed — the hand and body of a human baby emerged from the swaddling. You might call what follows a horror movie, but that feels too blunt a term for a story whose shivery notes are just part of a deeply singular mood, a family drama of three strange, daredevil acts. Only the cat could guess the ending.

‘Lamb’ is in UK cinemas from December 10

★★★★☆


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