Unlike anything else you’re likely to see at the cinema this year

Hannah Strong

02 Dec 21

Valdimar Jóhannsson

Release Date
10 December

Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Ingvar Sigurðsson


Running Time
106 mins

On a sheep farm in the idyllic Icelandic countryside, María and Ingvar lead a quiet life, tending to their flock and diligently doing chores. One morning during lambing season, they make a discovery among the newborns that changes their fate forever, in Valdimar Jóhannsson's audacious and eerie supernatural horror debut. Drawing on Icelandic folklore and the lush, untamed beauty of the country's wilderness, Jóhannsson, co-writer Sjón and their talented collaborators transport us to a world where humans and beasts find themselves in a delicate truce that quickly comes under threat when María and Ingvar refuse to let nature take its course. 

From A24, the studio that brought us Robert Eggers' The Witch and Ari Aster's Midsommar, Lamb is a wholly original vision from an intriguing new filmmaking talent that will satisfy cinema-goers seeking a horror fix. Jóhannsson previously worked behind the scenes in Iceland, on films including Prometheus and Rogue One, and created his first short film, Harmsaga, in 2008. Striking out on his own, his debut is an eerie and jaw-dropping fable where nothing is quite what it seems. Featuring The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo actor Noomi Rapace, alongside acclaimed Icelandic actors Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Lamb is a mesmerising tale of nature versus nurture. Showing the Icelandic countryside, the film walks a fine line between atmospheric drama and darkly funny horror, grappling with some arresting imagery and extremely imaginative character design. 

With Lamb, Jóhannsson is confirmed as a visual and imaginative storyteller, while his co-writer, Sjón, is an Icelandic talent who got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song alongside Björk for I've Seen It All in 2001, and has co-written the screenplay for Robert Eggers' hotly anticipated historical thriller The Northman, due to hit cinemas in 2022. Fans can get a taste for Sjón's genre-defying style through his collaboration with Jóhannsson, which also features a score from Iceland's Þórarinn Guðnason, who worked alongside Hildur Guðnadóttir on her Oscar-winning score for Joker.

Rapace gives a standout performance as María, balancing maternal warmth with a fierce defensive streak, while Haraldsson adds narrative tension as her brother-in-law, Pétur, who turns up unannounced at the farm following a spot of bother and threatens to disturb the peaceful – if not bizarre – set-up of their family unit. It's a film that isn't afraid to linger on the domestic routine of María and Ingvar, but a powerful sense of dread also stalks the family as something sinister lurks beyond the safety of their farmhouse. You'll be on the edge of your seat as the couple and their young charge face the repercussions of interfering with nature, but with a few mischievous comic touches, Lamb achieves a unique, dreamlike tone.

The unconventional sweetness of Lamb's central family is often undercut by moments of unsettling imagery, which keeps audiences guessing right up until the film's disturbing climax. Awarded the Prize of Originality at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Lamb is quite unlike anything else you're likely to see at the cinema this year, taking inspiration from Rosemary's Baby and the bewitching beauty of rural Iceland to create a strangely touching tale of unconventional parenthood. For fans of unusual horror or anyone with an interest in Nordic cinema, Lamb is a compelling slice of world cinema from an exciting new talent.   Hannah Strong

Quick Q&A

Valdimar Jóhannsson on Lamb

"As a child I spent much time at my grandparents' sheep farm, so lambs, sheep and rams are animals I know very well. I always wanted to tell a story that was based on folktales, a story that reflected the nature in people and people in nature. I started working on a mood board and a graphic novel to put together a story that could become a film. My producers then introduced me to the writer Sjón back in 2010, which was to bring much luck. We started talking about this idea of mine, which later became Lamb. He liked my inspirations, he was fascinated by the same things I was; we had a very slow and organic process of working on the script and got to know each other very well."

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