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Ambitiously unique, 'Lamb' proves being different can carry its own poetry

One of the best things about "Lamb" is that it doesn't play out how you think. The other good thing is Noomi Rapace's performance.
Credit: A24

ST. LOUIS — Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) may not have children, but they have each other on a sheep farm in the ghostly Iceland countryside. Their everyday life carries rhythm and purpose: feeding and tending to the animals, both young and old, while tilling the field for nutrients and supplies.

They have modern-equipped vehicles, but even Ingvar takes a late night stroll through the dark in his loader. They are their own family, but there's a desire for more on their day-long faces. Maria treats the baby lambs like she would a baby, something we're never sure happened or is possible for them.

But suddenly, one day during a seemingly normal lamb birth, something extraordinary happens. But sometimes, what you wish for is what you should dread instead.

I won't give any further into Valdimir Johannsson's "Lamb," one of the most unusual films you will see this year, and probably next year too. A bigger step for artistry than standard moviegoer fare, this drama will make you gasp around the forty minute mark. That's not hyperbolic at all. You will say a certain word, look around at other people, and quietly check your phone for IMDB. "Did I go to the right movie?"

"Lamb" is different because it's not very cinematic. People's expressions turn to clay for the first chapter of the three chapter-long movie, giving little away to the audience. We know they love each other, all the while loving the idea of something to care for. Watching this unfold without a score (the film is silent for long stretches) takes some patience, but when Ingvar's reckless brother Petur (Bjorn HIynur Haraldsson) shows up unannounced, the movie really starts to pick up.

One of the best things about "Lamb" is that it doesn't play out like your movie mind will think. This is a situation where you toss out the cinema sabermetrics, and just prepare yourself for anything. I'll admit it's easier to admire Johannsson's film rather than outright love it, but I do love the ambition. Once the second act stretches its legs out, with Petur acting as the moviegoer's point of view, an air of lightness appears before the inevitable dread.

What Maria and Ingvar decide to do could be compared to a kidnapping of sorts, and the price one will pay for a little more happiness is a slow-moving terror here. You're not ready, but that's the point of Sjon and Johannsson's quietly potent script: keep you off-balance and anticipate anything.

Rapace (the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") is terrific here. She could haunt you without words, a beautiful face that looks like it has seen too many bad things in life... yet survived to wear it for the rest of her days. The freckles on her face resemble a permanent form of blood splatter in the pale white light of Iceland. She gives Maria the right amount of strength and diligence, a woman who keeps her needs hidden just close enough for her to feel. It's understated, but that's the tempo of "Lamb," so it works.

Guonason looks like a beefier Gerald Butler, giving Ingvar the proper amount of stoutness and warmth. For him, a happy wife equals a happy life, so he makes it his goal in life to give Maria what she wants. Haraldsson looks like a devilish Nick Offerman, but his Petur has many layers that don't make him the normal "dude who messes everything up" casualty of screenwriting.

Again, "Lamb" moves to its own beat. Sometimes, it's not the easiest watch but in the end, it's a worthy one. Being different can carry its own poetry.