‘The Other Lamb’ a Cult Film That Won’t Become A Classic

by Jonah Desneux on July 21, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Swiss Fist]

The Other Lamb, streaming on Hulu and available on VOD, might be the most disturbing coming-of-age film of all time. Director Malgorzata Szumowska’s dark “youth in revolt” film, is filled with nightmarish imagery that can unnerve the most sound of minds. Without dipping too much into hyperbole, The Other Lamb is one of the most unsettling yet beautifully shot films I have ever seen. While the film is devoid of engaging substance, the impressive cinematography and visuals will simultaneously haunt and astonish audiences.

Taking place in a remote mountain area, The Other Lamb follows an all-female cult on their pilgrimage to paradise. The cult is led by a mysterious man called Shepherd (Michael Huisman) and with Christ-like parallels galore, he can best be described as “Evil Jesus.” One day teenage Selah (Raffey Cassidy) begins to have violent visions, leading her to question the dark community she grew up in. The group’s seemingly endless plight and the secrecy of Shepherd’s private acts with the mothers of the group leads Selah down a distraught spiral of revelations and her own salvation.

The film opens with a hypnotic shot of a woman in a white dress drowning underwater. Following this, the chilling compound is shown with eerie woods lingering in the background. With a multitude of unique camera techniques and constant distressing mise-en-scene, Szumowska tickles the viewer’s own Spidey senses in knowing that something very very bad is about to happen. Szumowska makes her intentions clear from the get-go, she wants to evoke an emotional response from the visuals rather than the dialogue. 

While there seems to be a recent influence in the visual style from directors Ari Aster and Robert Eggers, Szumowska trumps them both in creating traumatizing nightmare scenery. This hellscape she creates also effectively captures the nightmare that her female characters are born into, even though it is treated as the norm. Interpretations can then easily run wild and the film’s commentary to the real world makes everything even more jarring.  It is with this duality that the film takes on it’s greater meaning and its strength is shown. If there was only more substance for audiences to cling onto, then The Other Lamb’s impact would have been far more significant. The film could have ironically had “cult classic” potential and reception to similar works like The Witch(2015) and Hereditary(2018), however, the film holds itself back with its lack of a plot. Never surrendering to a true mosaic-like edited style, The Other Lamb is stuck in the middle where it’s ideas are more interesting to think about than to actually watch.

The plot and the pacing are the biggest hindrances to The Other Lamb’s overall quality. While visually stunning, the film lacks a must needed investment with its characters. The story is inherently intriguing, which is why it is so disappointing that there is little care for the characters as a whole. We root and are emphatic to the women on screen, but there is a lack of investment to cherish the reliability needed for the film’s success. This might have to do with the film’s slow start or absence of a moment that captures the audience with suspense, but overall it seems that the film gets too carried away with the “show don’t tell philosophy.”  While that style can work exceptionally with some films that completely commit to it, The Other Lamb suffers from its reliance on being in the middle of a visual masterpiece without a narrative and a meaningful troupe filled narrative.

A film that handles this storytelling technique better and draws significant narrative comparisons to The Other Lamb is Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff. Both films’ basic premise is about a group of travelers lost in a journey through the deserted Northern part of America and a young woman questions the man leading the expedition. What makes Meek’s Cutoff more successful even though it contains less dialogue, is that there is more of a personal build on its protagonist, raising the stakes while getting its message across. Like most Reichardt films, there is an awareness of the monotony and their slow nature. The Other Lamb stretches itself too thin in having an adventure while also maintaining is silent reflection.

Nothing can take away from Raffey Cassidy’s remarkable performance in the film. While she might not be the perfect fit for the age, Cassidy is great in her portrayal of a loss of innocence into complete horror. Cassidy’s performance helps Selah stand out from the other women in the ensemble. In what must be an invasive process of being subjected to so many extreme close-ups, Cassidy excels at capturing the authenticity in the midst of the graphic bizarre. I was left wanting more scenes overtly representing her psyche, but her powerful expressions helped understand the character’s conflicted thought process as much as possible.

It is important to have both a female director and writer (C.S. McMullen) tell this story. Many of the most famous films about cults are directed by men. While women’s place in these taboo communities has been addressed before in films, it is important seeing this from a woman’s perspective. The Other Lamb is a work of fiction, but it is a story that can only be told by women for its ideas to carry the same strength. 

 In what may become a controversial scene in the film, a young female character is shown having simulated sex with an older man. Though this scene is important to the story and speaks on issues that go beyond the film, the scene went on longer than needed. The film can be filmed as much unnerving imagery as can be, but moments such as this don’t have to have as much visual representation as it did. With this film and many others, I hope that scenes of this nature are shown in ways that are significantly less person. Subtleness can go a long way in creating a reaction and still getting the point across.

Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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