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The Other Lamb
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Malgorzata Szumowska
scr Catherine S McMullen
prd David Lancaster, Stephanie Wilcox, Tristan Lynch, Aoife O'Sullivan, Marie Gade Denessen
with Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, Denise Gough, Ailbhe Cowley, Eve Connolly, Isabelle Connolly, Jane Herbert, Aislin McGuckin, Kelly Campbell, Eva Mullen, Esosa Ighodaro, Mallory Adams
release US 3.Apr.20,
TORONTO FILM FEST
Set in an isolated woodland cult community, this drama has an eerie quality that removes it from time and place. In her English-language debut, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska gives the film a haunting visual sensibility, cleverly using iconography from both religion and fairy tales. And as the story slowly develops, there's a gnawing feeling of impending horror.
Young teen Selah (Cassidy) has never known anything beyond her life in the isolated community overseen by the Shepherd (Huisman), who guards his women from the world. Selah knows that when she reaches puberty she will, like the others, go from being a daughter to a wife. Then just as her time comes, outside attention means that they need to pack up and find a new home. As they travel, she spends some time with Sarah (Gough), a friend of her late mother who lives on the fringe of the group and knows some secrets.
As the film opens, it's seriously unsettling to see teen girls with an aching desire to become the Shepherd's wife. Szumowska plays much of the story in silence, as this flock of women and sheep traverse through the forest, while Selah watches everything carefully. Selah also has increasingly disturbed dreams about her past and future, suggesting that she is perhaps beginning to doubt the Shepherd's all-knowing leadership. Intriguingly, this cult doesn't particularly seem religious beyond stories about Eve's sin that the Shepherd uses to exert control over his harem.
Only a few characters register as distinct people. Cassidy gives another riveting internalised performance as a young woman whose imagination is becoming increasingly tormented by what's happening around her. Her scenes with Huisman are electric, as he brings a Jesus-style physicality to his soft-spoken passive aggression. And in a smaller role, Gough has some vivid moments of her own, helping push Selah on a journey from a follower into a doubter and even a leader, with ideas that are downright revolutionary.
As the story progresses, a parallel narrative forms within Selah's mind, crosscutting a layer of horror that develops into something darkly alarming, including some grisly freak-out moments. Meanwhile, the events twist and turn until Selah learns that the truth is perhaps even scarier than her fantasies. Where this goes is more than a little vague, with bizarre hints and creepy revelations. Szumowska's use of beautiful close-ups often obscure the bigger picture, but they give the film some properly chilling power.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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