Now playing from IFC Midnight on Video On Demand, The Other Lamb is high on atmosphere and low on story. There was potential here to strike a chord in the horror film genre, unfortunately it misses the mark.
Born in a low-tech cult, teenager Selah (Raffey Cassidy) exists in a place almost out of time. She lives with all women (lambs) and their anointed Shepherd, played by Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman. The women lead a secluded life in the forest led by their prophet, father, lover and often tormentor.
There are two ways to watch this film. One with just a casual entertain me now attitude; or another, where you want to get philosophical and look for the deeper meaning of dream sequences and what seems like random shots, but represent specific characters or action.
There’s a scene where Selah finds a rotting bird with maggots undulating inside of it. It’s disgusting and the connection is made that the cult is rotting from within. There is nuance in this film if you want to go there.
The Other Lamb is big on atmosphere with quiet and patient shots that hold for long beats allowing you to feel the remoteness of the forest and the untouched natural meadows that contrast with the brutality of nature and the horror of what is taking place within the cult.
Selah, not yet a woman, is given to contemplation and dreaming. Her mind travels within quiet moments that capture disturbing visions. Her daydreams are often violent and though I am sure they represent specific themes they mostly alluded me. They also contained a lot of menstrual blood, rubbing it here, rubbing it there, smearing it on a cheek, etc. And I get that it represents change for her but hitting that point home over and over again wasn’t necessary. The blood represents change, that point was made three times.
Selah’s journey from lamb to enlightened is the gist of the story and it’s a ponderous one that fills 97 minutes, feeling twice that.
This story has all sorts of potential, but a crucial misstep was taken. Absolutely none of the characters are likable, endearing, worthwhile, and if Selah is going to make a transformation at some point, then as an audience we need to be invested in her. At no point, in her dreaming and menstrual blood smearing is a connection made.
There are a few scenes where a “normalized” teenage Selah is sitting in the back of a car wearing normal modern clothes as if she is a different person (her potential). This still didn’t get you to connect to the character nor her plight.
Though Selah and the younger girls seem to have no choices in their daily existence, you may come to detest the whole outfit. The horror comes with the realization that the older women chose this existence and that they also allow it to continue for their own children. There are no male babies.
Strange Casting Choice
Michiel Huisman plays “Shepherd.” It’s his character’s name and also his role within the cult. He ministers to the women instilling his ultimate control and also partakes of them sexually. When a girl has her first period she is then “married” to Shepherd who has strange sexual antics that involve shoving his fingers down their throats.
We gather from the ages of the women (mother’s) and the presence of their daughters, who have also born children that we are looking at two full generations and their very young. This would make Shepherd a Grandfather. In real life, he’s way too young, and on camera in this story he’s way too young. He’s unbelievable in appearance.
Though he’s a fine actor who delivered memorable performances in “Game Of Thrones” as Daario Naharis and the love interest in “Age of Adaline,” he’s just too young to play Shepherd. It’s hard to believe this character is running all these women, their children, and the children’s children.
His character doesn’t get to demonstrate enough of what makes him so enigmatic that women would allow this behavior and endorse it. As the ultimate driver of the story there never is a reason given for his actions nor why the women allow it to continue. We get a hint in a conversation between Selah and one of the women deemed unfit, but that is all.
That’s not a comment on Huisman’s acting but a lack of writing and a major misstep in creating a story with a worthy villain and characters you care about.
The production of a film is not an easy endeavor. “The Other Lamb” has many excellent film sequences and well executed choices in getting just the right look that creates an oppressive atmosphere. Shepherd controls and manipulates his flock but at the same time is having children with his own children, we get the horror of that and we’ve seen it before.
In the end, the lack of strong character writing gives us a story with people we do not ultimately care about. They are even detestable and there is horror in that but when Selah evolves into “The Other Lamb” you just don’t care. And that is the real flaw with this film.
- Poorly Executed Characters