The latest international acquisition from A24, Lamb has struck audiences with a special kind of curiosity. Moviegoers have been reveling in Valdimar Jóhannsson’s genre piece as it’s made waves from festival to festival. There’s just something so transfixing about its mesh of slow drama and horror, and of course the cute little hybrid at the center of it all. Coming out of Iceland, the film has proved to be more than just another niche release – many are already praising it as one of the most unique horror films of the year. Despite this success, the filmmakers behind Lamb don’t really consider it that much of a horror film at all.
Director and writer Valdimar Jóhannsson has expressed this notion before, going as far as to say that making horror was actually never his intention. “To me, it’s an arthouse film,” he told Variety earlier this year. So how is it that audiences are now embracing Lamb as a new frightful gem? Enter the cunning tactics of indie darling distributor A24. Hot off the release of everyone’s new medieval epic in The Green Knight, the studio has been on a roll this year. In truth, it’s hard to imagine a film like Lamb gaining this much full-scale attention without the dedicated push of a distributor like A24. And as Jóhannsson and lead star Noomi Rapace tell us in our exclusive interview, partnering with A24 was a perfect choice. They don’t mind if fans see the film differently, in fact, they encourage people to judge it for themselves!
In discussing Lamb, Jóhannsson and Rapace take us back to the very roots of this dark tale. Jóhannsson talks the sketchbook filled with drawings and clippings that he originally created as the basis for this story and how Icelandic poet Sjón refined them in script form. Meanwhile, Rapace breaks down her pivotal performance and makes clear that she was very much involved in the creative process as an executive producer as well. Based on this conversation, it’s no wonder that “Lamb feels like a fully-realized modern fable.”
To start us off, both of you have already spoken on the film’s connection to Icelandic folklore. Now throughout Lamb, it very much felt as if I was witnessing a storybook unfold on screen. Yes, it’s divided into chapters, but certain frames also feel like I’m opening a book in the best way. Can you talk about bringing this fable element on-screen?
Noomi Rapace: I would say you’re not far off, because we keep coming back to [Valdimar’s] sketchbook. And a lot of the images shot in the movie were actually in that sketchbook. So it’s like he already knew how he wanted the film to look and how he wanted it to be.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: Also when writing the script, Sjón, the other writer, he’s so good with rhythm. He can almost calculate how long everything should be. And in the beginning, I made the sketchbook with so many images and moods that we wanted to have in the film. And we both really like slow cinema, so maybe that adds to that.
Noomi Rapace: Yeah! When you read a book, you have time to think because it’s pages – it’s in chapters and you have time to reflect. I think [Valdimar] allows the audience to fill in and read things. Because it’s not overfed, right? We’re not force-feeding you.
Noomi, you always prove to immerse yourself 100% in every single one of your roles, and Lamb has a very precise tone. It dances between heavy drama, then it goes into a little bit of the supernatural. How did you two go about nailing that unique tone together?
Noomi Rapace: We didn’t really talk about tone, it just felt so normal. It felt like we were telling a family story, you know? We talked a lot about Maria and her broken heart, what happened before we meet her in the movie. But at the same time, I felt like we were just exploring each scene with a very open mind and kind of approaching everything with simplicity. [Valdimar] keeps saying that it’s kind of a normal film, but with one element that is weird. So I started building Maria from within, placing my backstory in my body and then allowing that to come out whenever it was meant to. I feel like it was not so planned. It was not so calculating.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: I remember when you first came in, at least how I saw it, you had a deep understanding of the character.
Noomi Rapace: But that was in my body, it was not so much in my head. It was not a planned thing. Sometimes when we work, you work very intellectually. Now it was more emotional and very psychological, I kind of filled myself with her life and then she just guided me, strangely enough.
Was it harder for you Noomi to reach this emotion? Because, obviously, Ada (the sheep hybrid) was brought to life through a mix of different methods.
Noomi Rapace: You know, we shot with babies and real lambs, and Ada was there (laughs). I had to kind of blur that a little bit and mold those two bodies into one but it felt very real.
Speaking of Ada, I wanted to ask you Valdimar on how long it took to perfect her look? She’s this strange hybrid, of course, but I cared for her a lot more than I thought I would and I think that speaks to her design.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: From the beginning, ever since my drawings of Ada, it always felt like she was just there with us. After shooting, I can’t remember how much time it took, but then COVID came and so we had more time to finish it in post than what was planned. We were working with some amazing people, I am so glad because I knew if Ada would not be perfect, then the film could just be like a comedy (laughs).
Is there a reason why you chose to have Ada with human body parts, like a whole arm, as opposed to being all wool and hooves?
Valdimar Jóhannsson: Yeah, you have to think about the Father… it was some kind of mix that I thought would make sense.
Right, so there has been a very strong audience reaction to Lamb. Not only online but I’ve seen the trailer with people in theaters and everyone is always taken aback, yet they get really into it and want more. Val, you’ve said that you don’t see this as a horror movie. Though when other people react to it very strongly, they probably see it as horror. Why do you both think people have grown such a fascination with Lamb?
Valdimar Jóhannsson: It makes me happy that people are interested to see the film, and I think that everybody should so they can decide what genre they want to put it in. Because, you know, we all have our different views.
Noomi Rapace: Also, it’s so original in a way that you haven’t seen this before. It’s kind of like when Midsommar came, it’s this weird Scandi or Nordic story with European elements but it’s done in a way that’s very universal at the same time. There’s very little dialogue and I would say that you don’t even need to read the subtitles, you get drawn into the actual story. You don’t need to think a lot so it’s kind of a shortcut into people’s minds. They don’t need to reflect maybe so much, it’s not a lot of information to take in, but still it is.
Finally, the film is getting a lot of exposure in the states because of A24, who’ve garnered plenty of attention before with movies like Midsommar as you just mentioned. So why do you think A24 is the perfect partner to release Lamb over here?
Noomi Rapace: They are very brave and do things in a way that hasn’t been done before. It’s very refreshing to see that. They have confidence and I just love the way they look at artists and cinema. It feels very fresh and it feels very new, it’s like they’re not relying on old structures. And a movie like Lamb, if it gets embraced by someone like A24 then it will have the right path. On its own, it could be kind of lost in translation. But now because A24 understands the movie, they can communicate something in the best possible way because they are fearless. That’s how I would describe it.