THE OTHER LAMB (2019)
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska
Written by C.S. McMullen
Starring Michiel Huisman, Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough, Eve Connolly, Kelly Campbell, Isabelle Connolly, Ailbhe Cowley, Irene Kelleher, Charlotte Moore, Jane Herbert, Mallory Adams, Zara Devlin, David Fawaz, Juliette Crosbie, Eva Mullen
THE OTHER LAMB is an uneven, but gorgeous film with solid performances and some really nightmarish imagery. There are those who might think it doesn’t really deserve to be deemed horror, but I think there is enough for it to qualify. It tries to harness some of the mystique of THE VVITCH with a tad of THE LODGE, THE VILLAGE, and maybe some Lars Von Trier-like ephemeral tone and pace. I think it is fair to say it is trying to be elevated horror, but there are definite flaws in the way its story is told.
Selah (TOMORROWLAND, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER’s Raffey Cassidy) is a member of a cult comprised of all women, lead by their male Shephard (Michael Huisman). The cult lives in the middle of an unidentified forest and practices many rituals involving the herd of sheep they tend to and what seems to be intricate weavings threaded around the trees that surround their encampment. The cult seems to follow a rigid set of rules separating the women into groups of wives for the Shepherd and sisters who are the younger generation of women worshipping the word of the Shephard. As Selah begins to make her change from child to woman and gets her period, she fears what this rite of passage means to her status in the eyes of the Shephard. While at first seems as if it might take place in the past, the arrival of a modern police vehicle lets us know that it is a current year tale. Once the police arrive, the cult is forced to uproot and go on a pilgrimage to a new location, which holds a whole new set of demanding and dire rules to follow at the word of the Shephard.
The positive. THE OTHER LAMB is filled with all sorts of vivid imagery that could be considered both beautiful and nightmarish. The woven thread around the trees that are scattered throughout the forest are gorgeous—like some kind of surreal spider web from an alien world. The threads create bizarre and off-kilter lines that make for an unnerving and unstable foundation the viewer looks at this world from. There are some scenes that depict the forest as a world where up and down are questionable, playing on the confused mindset of our central character Selah. Filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska knows how to manipulate the image to reflect the emotion and themes they are trying to convey and does so with the confident hand of a wizened artist.
Another positive is that this film is acted perfectly. Raffey Cassidy looks a lot like about four or five other actresses out there at the moment, but still pulls off a powerful turn as Selah—someone who is unsure whether or not to give her entire being to the Shephard or give in to her rebellious nature that wants to question everything. While I think it would have been interesting to see where this rebellious nature came from (maybe a flashback of her mother being that way before she joined the cult or something), the conflict in her personality pulled me into the story and made me root for her. The Shephard also is framed in a mesmerizing way and plays very well as the Christ-like leader of the cult. As the story progresses, we see the Shephard as someone to be followed and feared and later as someone who is much more pathetic and petty—GAME OF THRONES actor Michiel Huisman plays both parts with great skill.
One of the things that bothered me about THE OTHER LAMB is that it feels as if it wants to be both a metaphorical story as well as a dramatic character-heavy story. I’m not saying a film can’t be both, but I am saying that in this film, playing it both of these ways makes for an uneven experience. The film spends most of its runtime following the story through Selah’s eyes and thus, this becomes a personal story. But in the final moments, the film tries to play things out in bold metaphor—centering on feminist themes of taking down the patriarchy. I didn’t mind the theme itself, but I felt that character of Selah took a backseat and the women in the cult and Selah herself began acting less realistically and more as a symbolic force in the latter moments. Had the film highlighted this metaphor throughout the film, I don’t think I would have minded to tonal shift at the end, but as is, it proved to be unnerving and out of place after all of the great character work Cassidy did.
THE OTHER LAMB takes its sweet time to get things rolling. The film takes a considerably long amount of time focusing on dream-like imagery and a lot of time depicting the day to day life of the cult. The real twist that puts the group into action (the arrival of the police to force them to leave their current camp and look for a new one) occurs close to the forty-five minute to hour mark. That’s quite a bit of time dedicated to getting to know the world. I think had the film opened with the cops showing up or maybe that happened within the first twenty minutes, the drag of the film wouldn’t have been so noticeable.
For the most part, this film plays out as a drama, following a bunch of women lead by a deluded man across a forested terrain. The horror takes the form of horrific nightmare imagery, the mere presence of the cult itself, and a somewhat gruesome ending. While the tone is pitch black, fans of modern mainstream horror are going to get bored with the pace and lack of scares. Those who don’t mind waiting will most likely find the dire ending worth the wait, but I felt the way the ending was edited undercut a lot of the tension.
While I mentioned THE VVITCH, THE LODGE, and THE VISIT, I think those films qualify as horror ten times more than what THE OTHER LAMB is. It’s a dark film with dark themes and a dank and dark ending, but very light on the horror. It’s a good looking film, but I think it’s all over the place in terms of theme and story cohesion. While it’s not a thrill a minute, there are some great performances and everything looks top notch, so if that’s all you need in a horror film, THE OTHER LAMB will be your bag.