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The Other Lamb

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 3, 2020
'The Other Lamb'
'The Other Lamb'  

Do you ever feel you're living in a gaslit fever dream? Times being what they are, there's a good chance that you do. But maybe not to the extent that Selah (Raffey Cassidy) does in director Malgorzata Szumowska's nightmarish incest-cult-horror flick "The Other Lamb."

Selah and her sisters live in the woods in a collection of shacks. They have a small herd of sheep to keep them company, which seems apt since they are more or less sheep under the constant supervision and dubious guidance of a man they revere as The Shepherd (Michel Huisman). Numbering a couple dozen - more or less, including small children - the all-female flock tend to each other, the livestock, the chores, and their Shepherd with fanatical devotion. At suppertime, they all sit down to a long table, at the head of which The Shepherd sits. After dinner come the amusements, chief among them a game of Duck, Duck, Goose that sees The Shepherd circling the room and tapping that night's chosen plaything.

Selah and the other daughters are clad in prim blue dresses; the wives are clad in "Handmaid's Tale" red. When a young woman's menstrual cycle arrives, she shifts roles, transitioning from daughter to wife. Newborns - referred to as "lambs" - are always female. Always. Unless that is, they're "born wrong." (Fans of that other Michel Huisman epic, "Game of Thrones," might recognize the parallels between his film and the fantasy TV series' depiction of a similar family structure in which a single patriarch presided over a bevy of ever-proliferating beauties. Any male offspring were... well, for want of a better word, sacrificed.)

The time is drawing near when Selah will reach womanhood. It's a terrifying proposition, given that - in accord with biblical teachings - women undergoing menstruation are separated from the rest of the flock, dwelling in a distant hovel until their period passes. These women are not entirely forsaken because there's a permanent resident in that hovel, a "cursed wife" whom The Shepard has decreed to be "broken" - as broken as the outside world he despises; as broken, indeed, as anything else he happens to disagree with.

It's obvious that Selah, being headstrong and curious and smart, is going to find herself in danger of being denounced as broken before long. Counterbalancing her natural strength and intelligence, however, is her father's grotesque fascination with her beauty.

The creep factor is enhanced by Selah's anxieties, which take the form of daydreams, nightmares, and - once or twice - what would seem to be hallucinations. Complicating matters is a visit from law enforcement, in which The Shepherd is told in no uncertain terms to pack up and quit the scattering of shacks where he and his followers have been squatting for years. As the band roves an increasingly desolate countryside, heading toward some uncertain promised land, Selah prepares herself to leave childhood behind. But will that be the very thing that leaves her broken? Or will she find the will to break back in kind?

Screenwriter C.S. McMullen has taken a handful of horror movies that center around twisted structures of hierarchy and faith - a bit of "The Witch" mixed with a dash of "The Village" and infused with an unmistakable whiff of the star of "The Apprentice" - and created a terrifyingly unhinged coming-of-age story that interrogates the fallacies involved with any human exercise in power. But it's Szumowska's direction that raises hackles and the performances of Cassidy and Huisman that prompt chills.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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