[LFF Review] 'The Other Lamb' is a Febrile Nightmare for Cult-Obsessors
THE OTHER LAMB is a nightmarish coming of age horror film that follows Selah, a young girl born into a repressive, female-only cult known as the Flock, who live in a rural compound and are led by the only man in the group, The Shepherd. On the cusp of teenage-hood, Selah is given the esteemed honor of participating in the sacred ritual of the birthing of the lambs – upon which the Flock depend on for survival – where she has a startling and ethereal experience
It is an odd horror that interestingly studies a cult and as such forms itself to be a criticism of religion and especially organized religion, talking about the problems that thread blind faith and cult followings that are influenced by charismatic, influential leaders. What is most interesting is its take on cults & religions and the blind-following behind many of them. It questions what blind faith might come with the teachings of a charismatic leader such as with religion or with cult leaders, such as Manson, who spread blind-faith into followers who fall into these unfaithful traps.
Along with its indie-feeling direction, that seems steadily experimental in the way it follows the story, it also feels quite distinct in its aesthetic look - it’s gloomy yet hopeful in that sense, featuring some gorgeous cinematography that forms a cult-like horror atmosphere that shimmers with some sense of realism and hope.
With more praise to its stellar cinematography, the film’s shot puller deserves a shoutout of his own for some of the brilliantly effective shifts of focus in various scenes that truly help the film in focusing fully on what it wants to. An example of this would be the shifts of fox’s between characters standing next to each other and how their facial emotions differ, thus having various effective focus shifts help in showing that differentiation of feeling towards a particular subject matter presented in the film. The zooming shots are also very effective at capturing a sense of connection or disconnection between two characters, as well as a rising tension between them. They really add on to the film’s horror atmosphere. Further adding to this film's petrifying atmosphere is its gloomy, melancholic score, that sounds very much in the vein of Max Richter's masterful 'On The Nature Of Daylight' from his album, The Blue Notebooks.
Michiel Huisman, who unnervingly portrays The Shepherd, is quite terrifying at times, though his intimidatingly physical presence here does not compare to his psychologically terrorizing presence in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation. Huisman's performance feels too safe, especially amongst his character's status of being a charismatic, domineering cult leader. It never once feels charismatic or dominative enough to be riveting, especially alongside Raffey - who manages to be quite enthralling and spellbinding at times. However Raffey Cassidy, the ultimate star of the film, is frankly wonderful as she always is, giving another awing performance as Selah. Her voyage of self-discovery, that results in her repulsion of the blind teachings of The Shepherd which are implemented into The Flock, is what leads the film, with a thrivingly daunting ambition of re-establishment within her blindly-followed cult.
Despite impressive but safe supporting performances, an oddly distinctive aesthetic and a wild lead role, the film is brought down by certain creative choices that do make the film feel very confusing at times. Too many scenes feature very questionable and choppy editing that affects the flow of the film, inducing many scenes with convolution unnecessarily twisted complexities. The script feels too simplistic and basic, especially in the presence of an atmospheric cult horror film that requires a well-built script for proper character and story development to support the cult's story and plot going forward. The dialogue feels too safe and due to this development to the film's characters and the dynamics within the cult feel very limited, and what is presented feels too contorted in its message.
THE OTHER LAMB serves as a story of rebellion and patriarchal disestablishment - how masses of followers can physically overthrow a single leader or a minority of leaders, but are sometimes too trapped by blind faith, following or belief to psychologically and mentally feel able to overthrow these leaders. With a will, disenchantment and a loss of blindness, an overthrow is possible.
The Other Lamb screened at the 2019 London Film Festival and has been acquired by IFC Midnight for distribution.