The Other Lamb. 2020.
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska.
Starring Michiel Huisman, Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough, Eve Connolly, Kelly Campbell, and Isabelle Connolly.
A girl born into an all-female cult led by a man in their compound begins to question his teachings and her own reality.
When recalling Rose Glass’ hushed and captivating Saint Maud, I draw direct parallels to Malgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb. Both confidently helmed by international female filmmakers. Both well-spoken in the language of picturesque cinematography. Both confronting often-told oppression with more sensational methods in visual storytelling than narrative reinvention. You’ve seen womanhood explored through pubescent awakenings before, witnessed predators take advantage of the other sex, and yet, it’s still undeniable that Szumowska’s vision is strong enough to overcome familiar storytelling tendencies.
Young Selah (Raffey Cassidy) resides in an all-female community secluded deep within woodland isolation, led only by their male “Shepherd” (Michiel Huisman). He is their prophet, telling stories of outside dangers and anointing them either “daughters” or “wives.” As his red-dressed “wives” age out, “daughters” take over. Shepherd’s flock is devoted to their sexy-Abercrombie-Jesus messiah, except for Selah. She begins to endure nightmares that buck against Shepherd’s teachings, which make their collective quest to find a new “Eden” homeland more of a prison march than a journey to salvation.
Horror and coming-of-age fears run a gamut of executions based on a filmmaker’s selected motif. Oftentimes, the act represents something beastly (Ginger Snaps or When Animals Dream). In The Other Lamb, Selah’s period brings about “impurity” and unlocks her ability to see beyond Shepherd’s Manson-like hypnosis. Something beautiful and individual is used against the women, as Shepherd fights to keep their undivided attention from his blatant entrapment tactics. When Selah touches blood dripping down her thigh, she is freed. Unleashed, so to speak. Shepherd, behind his calming “devoted” charm, is terrified of his subjects gaining their independence. As he should be.
This rebellion, this emancipation, is the “seen that” angle of C.S. McMullen’s screenplay that still holds undeniable relevance. As adolescent girls are molded to follow normative societal practices and remain in-line, Selah becomes her herd’s black sheep. Yes, “the other lamb.” Michiel Huisman’s portrayal of a charismatic serpent is spot-on casting because audiences can “sympathize” with followers who’ve been blinded by this gorgeous man’s attentive sermons. In return, Raffey Cassidy’s conscious portrayal of Selah’s horror-minded perception, and unwilling participation, becomes the film’s rallying cry. Gender manipulation and domination enforce the film’s terror, retribution its vocal catharsis.
Cinematographer Michal Englert delivers on Szumowska’s “nightmare” fantasies, nothing but skinned rabbit corpses and coastal mountainsides. Musch like Hagazussa or The Head Hunter, so much of The Other Lamb is indebted to location-based beautification with an inherent thematic appeal. In this case, the lonely cliffs that hang over crashing waves, or endless treelines where civilization shares no boundary. What Selah sees, slaughtered innocence in animal form, plays accompaniment to her yells landing on no helpful ears. She is scared, discarded like the furless corpse in her nightly visions, and Englert’s camerawork frames simplicity with such an eye for elevating captivity or maximizing unease.
This is where “style over substance” comes into play, because my assessment notches these artistic impressions a cut above more forgettable horror stories of man vs. woman. Set dressings that make fences out of tension-tight string and color-coded costumes hold Shepherd as a myth, capable of stealing the lives of his congregation. Selah’s pivotal growth is that of a teenager who knows nothing but her curated teachings, sacrificial blood smudges, and a deep yearning to escape one man’s private sex-cult harem. Szumowska ensures we witness both the sinner and the saint in Shepherd, and while reveals or climaxes should usher no shock, there’s still biblical penance to be paid. “Expected but deserving” comes to mind, which solicits enough oomph as tides swiftly and rapturously turn.
The Other Lamb, led by a Polish-native director under an Irish film commission flag, is a universal tale of allowing women to be who they desire. A flame under the feet of patriarchal tyrants who still undermine progressive gender dynamics. Messaging remains overt, for a reason, and yet there’s plenty of colonial aesthetics to drive this puritanical bastardization down a road worth traveling. A film dedicated to fingering wolves in sheep’s clothing, no longer able to carry out their wicked ways by hiding behind what’s been culturally pushed as “righteousness” that couldn’t *possibly* harbor unforeseen, abusive motivations.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).