'Lamb' review: Weirdness and beauty on an Icelandic sheep farm

The secrets of "Lamb" are too good to spoil, but there's more going on here than cheap thrills.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

It's tough to talk about "Lamb" without giving away the surprise of "Lamb." And that surprise is worth experiencing for yourself, as is this strange, delicate and oddly touching Icelandic folk tale about grieving, healing and the laws of nature. 

Noomi Rapace (the original "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") stars as María, a sheep farmer in rural Iceland along with her husband, Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason). They're a quiet, unassuming couple living a quiet, unassuming life, and an innocuous conversation about time travel over breakfast one morning hints at a traumatic loss in their past. 

Noomi Rapace, left, in "Lamb."

One day while tending to their sheep, they take a particular liking to a newborn lamb, bringing it into their home, raising it as their own and calling it Ada. It's fair to say that from that point on, weirdness ensues.

But director Valdimar Jóhannsson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Björk collaborator Sjón (if it's Iceland, there's gotta be a Björk connection) has an incredible handle on tone, and what could be outrageous or uproarious is handled in a disarmingly tender manner. At its core "Lamb" is a human story, and Jóhannsson never falls out of rhythm with its beating heart. 

"Lamb's" sparse look and washed out visuals recall the minimalist horror of "The Witch," and Jóhannsson doles out several reveals that send shockwaves without overwhelming the balance of his universe. At its center is Rapace, who gives a remarkable performance, playing strong-willed yet vulnerable, hopeful yet hesitant. She makes this curiosity of a film something relatable and something special. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Lamb'

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for some bloody violent images and sexuality/nudity

Running time: 106 minutes

In theaters