“Well this is fucked.”
The final spoken line of this film certainly does sum the entire experience up rather nicely. The Other Lamb is one of those films that’s difficult to classify. It’s certainly not a traditional horror film, but it is a film filled with horrible moments and visuals. It looks at the mentality of religious cults and abusers, told through the eyes of main character Selah (Raffey Cassidy – Tomorrowland, Allied) a girl who was born into the cult but now, as she stands on the cusp of becoming a woman, finds herself beginning to doubt and question the actions of their leader, a man only known as The Shepherd (Michiel Huisman – World War Z, Game of Thrones).
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Set someplace, somewhen, we follow the story of this small group of women, divided loosely into the Shepherd’s wives who all wear red, and his daughters who all wear blue as they find themselves evicted from the small camp they call home, forced to journey out with their Shepherd to find a new place to call home, a new Eden.
There are heavy religious overtones, with this small cult being made up of women who have rejected the modern world and instead chosen to join this Christian-offshoot group. The symbolism is… not subtle. Sheep feature prominently throughout the story, the women are referred to as his “flock”, etc. Women who are menstruating are segregated from the rest of the family, considered to be “impure” due to the connection with Eve’s original sin.
Not a lot of time is really spent delving too deeply into the faith or motivations of the flock or the Shepherd as this is less a story about religion than it is about control and abuse. As the story progresses, the seemingly righteous Shepherd is slowly exposed for what he truly is: an abuser taking advantage of vulnerable women, and children raised to believe nothing else.
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The scenes of abuse and control are subtle and played for realism rather than scares and become all the more horrifying for it. The wife proudly displaying the handprint around her throat, the damage wrought on the “Broken Wife”, supposedly punished for her vanity, and the less said about what else the Shepherd gets up to between the sheets the better.
But beyond that, the story is oddly empty. There’s no real depth given to any of the characters, no real investigation into their beliefs or their lives beyond the daily chores. How did they all end up with the Shepherd? Dunno. What’s with the string tied everywhere? Dunno. All these questions and more will never be answered as the film instead spends most of the running time teasing the audience with Selah’s visceral and occasionally horrific dream visions, the odd mutilated animal and big, wide shots of beautifully bleak vistas.
This is one of those films where you could pause it at almost any point and the picture would be beautiful. The cinematography is sparse, cold, veering between intimate shots where the camera is so close you can almost see breath on the lens, and lingering wide shots of the countryside, hammering home how isolated this little group of people are, both physically and from the rest of society as a whole.
The film is mostly carried by the acting talents of Raffey Cassidy, everything seen from Selah’s viewpoint, and she’s a delight to watch. Her transformation from wide-eyed adoration to anger and suspicion is gradual and believable. Her awakening to the truth is helped along through the words and actions of Sarah, the previously mentioned Broken Wife, played here by Denise Gough who may be more familiar to video game fans as the voice of the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg from The Witcher 3.
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When all is said and done, though… what is this film really trying to say? Is it a story about a girl’s journey to becoming a woman? A commentary on cults, or the patriarchy, or the perils of rural sheep farming? As the credits roll, the viewer is still likely to be left wondering what the point was of this film. Pretty, thoughtful, occasionally shocking, often horrible, the film does stop but lacks anything that could be considered a true ending or conclusion to its story. Those who enjoyed movies like Midsommar, The VVitch and even The Lighthouse will probably find something to enjoy here.
The Other Lamb is out in cinemas and on MUBI on 16th October, and on DVD 26th October.