Review: The Other Lamb

Year: 2019
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Director: Małgorzata Szumowska
Writer: Catherine S. McMullen
Stars: Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, Denise Gough, Eve Connolly, Kelly Campbell

By Bianca Garner

“The Other Lamb” is the English language debut from filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska. You may not be familiar with Szymowska’s work, but she is an auteur with a distinct voice and style, her previous films have been divisive “Elles” (2011) a sexually explicit drama which followed Anne (Juliette Binoche), a journalist in Paris for French Elle who is writing an article about female student prostitution, the 2013 film “In the Name Of” which told the story of a closeted gay Catholic priest living in rural Poland and the 2018 film “Mug”, a strange comedy that told the story of fun-loving Jacek (Mateusz Kościukiewicz) who is disfigured in an accident at work, and becomes the first person in Poland to receive a face transplant, which leads to his status as a national hero and martyr. As a filmmaker, Szumowska isn’t afraid to take on unusual and challenging narratives which push boundaries and are designed to make the viewer think.

Her latest film may be her most controversial in terms of its themes and with some very surreal imagery, “The Other Lamb” proves to be just as polarizing as her other films. However, this shouldn’t put you off, as “The Other Lamb” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful and fascinating films to come out this year. Considering the short amount of time assigned to pre-production (just four weeks), and the challenges Szumowska and her crew faced with location scouting, it’s hard not to be awestruck by how masterfully crafted “The Other Lamb” appears, and the fall under the film’s spell.

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Michiel Huisman in “The Other Lamb” (2019) © Subotica Entertainment

The film follows Selah (an absolutely magnificent Raffey Cassidy) a young woman who has grown up in a small community headed by a mysterious man known only as The Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). We open with Selah and her friend by a waterfall, the girls are dressed in blue like their sisters, however, the older women in the group wear red to illustrate that they are ‘wives’ of The Shepherd. At first, we believe that the film is set in the past, due to the old fashioned style clothes and the lack of modern technology. In fact, this is the set in the modern-day, but the group have cut themselves from the rest of society.

“The Other Lamb” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful and fascinating films to come out this year.”

Shepherd is not only the group’s guardian, but he’s also their teacher, and their lover. Each of the many female members of the group is either his wife or daughter. Selah was raised as a daughter of Shepherd, but it is only a matter of time before she also stands to become a wife. The onset of puberty leads to Selah envisioning violent imagery: the twisted carcass of a sheep, maggots on a fallen bird, and perhaps more chilling the images of women in white dresses drowning. Whether or not these visions are just part of her imagination or whether she has been gifted with the power to see the future, is something that is never explained and we are left to come to our own conclusions.

An encounter with the local authorities forces the women and Shepherd to leave their settlement and find a new location so they can build a new Eden. As the small group begin the journey inland, Selah increasingly doubts her faith and her strange, bloody visions begin to become more frequent. She also struggles to keep her new progression into womanhood, a secret. And she soon witnesses the shocking truth of what happens to Shepherd’s women as they age.

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Raffey Cassidy in “The Other Lamb” (2019) © Subotica Entertainment

“The performances are truly noteworthy. Raffey Cassidy is a rising star, who has already demonstrated her talents in the likes of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Vox Lux”. Here, she yet again shows us all just how damn talented she is.”

The reason why “The Other Lamb” works (despite its dream-like surreal sequences) is because of its well-written narrative by the Australian writer Catherine S McMullen’s whose screenplay featured on the 2017 Black List and Blood List. The film is a weirdly wonderful combination of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale“, M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” and Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene”. McMullen has managed to weave together an effective disturbing and a chilling tale which illustrates the dangers of cult mentality.

The performances are truly noteworthy. Raffey Cassidy is a rising star, who has already demonstrated her talents in the likes of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Vox Lux”. Here, she yet again shows us all just how damn talented she is. Selah is a complex and well-develope character, and her ‘coming-of-age’ tale has echoes of Carrie White in “Carrie”. Cassidy plays the role with such restraint and maturity that it never feels melodramatic or forced.

Huisman’s Shepherd is one of this year’s most monstrous villains, up there with Oliver Jackson-Cohen‘s Adrian Griffin from “The Invisible Man“, however unlike Adrian Griffin, we can see Huisman’s in all of his visible “glory”. The character of Shepherd represents how dangerous toxic masculinity and how it can escalate if it goes unchallenged. The supporting cast (Denise Gough, Eve Connolly and Kelly Campbell among others) are also worth mentioning, as they all deliver a great performance.

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Raffey Cassidy in “The Other Lamb” (2019) © Subotica Entertainment

Szumowska expert direction is elevated by the cinematography by her regular cinematographer Michal Englert who helps to maintain the heightened atmosphere by capturing the vast loneliness of the bleak windswept landscapes that are devoid from colour aside from the women’s blue and red dresses. We become fully immersed in this despairing world through the use of cinematography and sound. The ground is a muddy soggy mess, a layer of eerie mist hangs in the air, and the wind howls around the characters. Englert uses dutch angles in order to show us just how unhinged this world is and helps to add to this uncomfortable, unsettling and unnerving atmosphere.

Some viewers may find “The Other Lamb” hard to follow; it can be very alienating at times, but that’s kind of the point. We are meant to be placed in the shoes of Selah and see the world through her eyes, therefore things seem disorientating and bizarre. The film unfolds slowly and it’s understandable why some may find it frustrating. However, if you simply surrender yourself to this film, then you will be taken on a wonderful journey into the world of a #MeToo fable. “The Other Lamb” is a film that resonates with you long after the credits have rolled.

4.5 stars

THE OTHER LAMB opens in select theatres and on VOD on Friday, April 3rd courtesy of IFC Midnight

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