Trite ‘Lamb’ bays: Baa-d

still from the movie Lamb
A24/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

Reductive and market-friendly, the phrase “A24 horror” is often best to be avoided, but unfortunately the beast must be called by name, if only because of how corporatized it is. In “Lamb,” the latest entry in what’s becoming a pantheon of Easter eggs, there is a scene where Icelandic farmer Maria (​​Noomi Rapace) places a flower wreath on the head of her lamb-child (lamb head, child’s body) — an image all too similar to “Midsommar.” It’s self-serving, fandom-pandering and plain trivial.

The little lamb, conceived of by writer-director Valdimar Johannsson, has been conceived by…  well, it’s not clear, but bestiality between man and goat is not off the table. In this vague case, “man” might be Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), husband to Maria and shepherd to their sheep.

The opening of “Lamb” shares an ominous resemblance to that of James Whales’ 1933 horror film “The Invisible Man.” Both begin blizzard-battered, yet when “Lamb” starts up, the mystery isn’t what’s going on, but whether it has purpose. Blinding snow quickly gives way to a cool, crisp day, and “Lamb” opens its first of three chapters with Ingvar caring for his sheep while Maria drives the tractor through the hills — the lamb-child is not yet born.

The story’s developments dribble like a leaky faucet. It takes roughly half the movie, for example, to learn Maria’s name. By that point, viewers also learn that María and Ingvar have a history: They pull a crib out of the garage. They’re prepared. But just as the audience is learning the ropes, a new man named Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) arrives on the farm after being unceremoniously dumped from the trunk of a car. More cookie crumbs from Johannsson that split off in every which direction, and come back together far too late. 

The film is set on Maria and Ingvar’s farm, which is situated in the shadow of imposing Icelandic mountains. “Lamb,” like its landscape, is often shrouded in mist. One of its most adept and spookiest moments (of precious few) involves a door that was irresponsibly left open as fog sweeps by outside. Yet, the fog and the mist quickly become a crutch. Any and all windows, whether in the farmhouse or in cars, are fogged — another curtain “Lamb” throws up in front of the viewer. 

The film’s infatuation with the eerie aspects of its characters’ world only gets more mechanical. As usual in Iceland, the humans sleep before the sun goes down and often rise in the dark — an utterly uncreative crutch, especially so here. For a movie so obsessed with nature’s ability to subvert comfort and expectations, the camera disappoints, opting for a monotonous, disinterested approach to its surroundings. 

Much more gets thrown into the blender, a frustration in a movie that works at such a slow pace. The filmmakers mistake lumbering volume for substance, as if every little thing is meant to be scrutinized by a voracious audience hoping to uncover the film’s genius. Much of “Lamb” is entirely spent on shots of sheep eating, baying or looking around. Should we make note of the numbers on their tags? The shape of their horns? The utter dearth of meaning draws attention to the many scenes punching above their weight. 

There’s an uncomfortable tension throughout “Lamb” between the aimless parts that fumble in the dark and the indulgent parts which resemble a child’s grabby hands: The film reaches for loftier ideas, but neglects to give them body, and so swings blindly in its fog. 

“Lamb” hits true on a few occasions — namely when it’s concerned with unwanted advances between characters. While a couple of scenes really chow down, the rest of the film becomes the crumbs dropped, building to them in a mess that’s begging to be swept up.

Dominic Marziali covers film. Contact him at [email protected].