Welcome to Shot by Shot, our ongoing series of movie and TV trailer breakdowns. We’re constantly scouring for perfect shots, and in this column, we share our favorites and discuss them. In this entry, we wander into the weird that is the Lamb trailer.
No one wants to talk about what’s going on in Lamb. The film premiered at Cannes earlier this year, and critics were weary with the spoilers. It’s one of those films you just gotta see to believe. And, based on what we’ve got here in this trailer, um, yeah, we can’t argue with that. We’re not sure what we got here, actually, but it’s unnerving as hell, utterly gorgeous, and disturbingly inviting. Basically, it’s an A24 movie! We gotta get it in our eyeballs.
Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason are a childless couple who challenge nature in their unyielding desire to parent. And when you challenge nature, nature tends to challenge back. Director Valdimar Jóhannsson makes his feature debut with Lamb, but he’s worked below the line as a special effects technician on such movies as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Fate and the Furious, and The Tomorrow War. It’s a good bet that his skills displayed on those flicks will come in handy with this bizarrely troubling Icelandic folk horror.
Watch the Lamb trailer:
Have you washed off your gooseflesh? Yes, no? Doesn’t matter. We’re going back in. Let’s chop the Lamb trailer into ten shots and see if we can make sense of it. This should provide some necessary immunity before we eventually subject ourselves to its terror theatrically.
The Lamb trailer opens with a soft aural assault. The score thrums, seemingly blending with the wind, only to be interrupted by Rapace’s short but loud mouth smack. We cut to her character Maria sitting inside a gravesite. Her expression communicates exhaustion and despair. She’s visiting someone she’s lost. Can we assume it’s a child? She makes the sign of the cross and gets back to life’s chores.
A24 delights in its logo trickery. They’ve constructed their name via skateboards in Mid90s, maypole flowers in Midsommar, and stained glass in Saint Maud. Here they’ve herded their studio sheep into devious formation, which is equally cute and menacing; a perfect transition into the nightmare that’s unveiled throughout the Lamb trailer.
We watch Maria move through her activities before stopping at this massive beauty. The mama sheep’s heavy breathing stands above the whistling wind. Jóhannsson presents motherhood as a horrendous, painful exercise. She’s knocked down, unable to beg for her child to be pulled from her. Maria and her husband Ingvar (Guðnason) oblige. But who is the father?
We spot the cute little head, but we miss the body. The lamb mews like a newborn, but something is off. Maria and Ingvar share a knowing look. This little lamb doesn’t look like the others. A pen won’t do. Out comes the crib. Again, its little body is hidden from our eyes. Whatever is going on underneath those blankets is…unusual…unnatural.
But the child brings them happiness, even if the film’s clicking score refuses to mirror their smiles. Ingvar tells Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) that the kid doesn’t like strangers. He chuckles at the little one’s apprehension, but Pétur stares in revulsion. Only the lamb can respond. Pétur, like us, has no words. Speak up, man.
With the “Ba” comes the Beach Boys. “God Only Knows” pops onto the soundtrack of the Lamb trailer, and we’re presented with several idyllic scenarios. Maria and the lamb on the hillside — oh, no, wait…yeah, that lamb has human hands! That lamb is definitely a human hybrid and probably not one trapped inside Maria’s imagination. Not when you consider Pétur’s glaring repulsion in the previous shot. We’ve ventured into pure David Lynch country, friends.
To hell with what Pétur thinks. Maria and Ingvar have discovered happiness. They’re going to do whatever it takes to hold onto it. Even if that means going to war with the other animals in their care. They march through the fog, and a sheep follows close behind. They’ve come for what’s theirs. Maria turns to scream the pest away, but she’s only met with a harder stare. All parties know that something wretched has occurred. Consequence has arrived.
Throughout the Lamb trailer, Eli Arenson‘s cinematography floats through flat daylight and milky fog, but his lens falls into straight horror-vision with this brief glimpse. The sheep are restless. They are done with the sidelines. Maria and Ingvar’s happiness will crumble to their will — nature’s will.
“It’s not a child. It’s an animal.” The couple must make a choice. In one shot, we see Maria dragging a sheep’s corpse by the horns. In the next, we see a man (probably Ingvar) taking the lamb in the other direction, rifle in hands. Dread simmers under every frame in the trailer, and this gun introduces a grotesque inevitability. Blood will be shed, spouses existing in opposite corners.
In the Lamb trailer’s final shot, a guttural rumble gurgles offscreen. Maria refuses to tremble, but a tear escapes her left eye. If the lamb child can exist, so too can something far worse. Director Jóhannsson is holding something back. There’s a beast for husband and wife to greet. On the other side of this shot lurks a catastrophic opponent. It probably knows the same fella who liked to live deliciously. Maybe they’re cousins.
Lamb lands in theaters on October 8th.