Why I took them off the list: For my second Double Feature film review from the 2021 Sitges Film Festival, I’m tackling 2 films that partly belong in the folk horror genre, although they take vastly different approaches to thier story. So, lets dig in!
Lamb IMDB description: “A childless couple, María and Ingvar, discover a mysterious newborn on their farm in Iceland. The unexpected prospect of family life brings them much joy, before ultimately destroying them.”
Antlers IMDB description: “In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with her enigmatic student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them.”
Review of Lamb
After the likes of Midsommar (2019), The Witch (2015), and It Comes At Night (2017), it seems that indie film producer/distributor A24 is hell-bent on single-handedly resurrecting the folk horror subgenre for a new generation. They are back at it again with Lamb, a film that has an unsettling earthy vibe reminiscent of the first film I mentioned, but unfolds in somewhat surprising, and not always horrific, ways.
You’d think that Noomi Rapace would have had enough of inadvertedly becoming a parent to a mutant creature on screen, after giving birth to a monstrous alien squid in Prometheus (2012) . This does not seem to be the case, as in Lamb, she once again finds herself becoming a mother to a freakish hybrid. However, the prospect of raising this strange child proves altogether more appealing.
Unsettling But Also Funny and Sweet
Although ostensibly a horror film, Lamb often comes across as more of a drama about the nature of parenthood and the stages of grief. There are certainly disturbing moments and a creeping sense of dread permeates the movie, but the bulk of the film is dedicated to outlining the beats of a simple country life as experienced by a seemingly content farming couple, that just happens to be interrupted by an unexpected and bizarre new arrival.
What is great about Lamb is that the couple takes in this ‘child’ and begins raising it as thier own without batting an eyelid, and as such the film comes across as a powerful and somewhat sweet depiction of unconditional love. There are a also a few scenes that are surprisingly outright hilarious, something largely achieved by the absolutely adorable design of the titular creature.
If I have one complaint about the film is that it unfolds at a too-leisurely pace at times, and although the shots of the striking Icelandic countryside are beautiful, I feel like quite a few of them could have comfortably been trimmed without taking away from the overall quality of the final product.
Worth Checking Out?
Yes! Lamb is another unnerving, beautiful, and thought-provoking triumph from A24. Even if you are not really into horror, it also proves to be a powerful drama with some surprisingly sweet and funny moments.
Final Score: 9/10
Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson
Written by Sjón, Valdimar Jóhannsson
Review of Antlers
A far more conventional horror narrative than Lamb, Scott Cooper’s Antlers strongly reminded me of Gore Verbinksi’s The Ring (2002) in many aspects. It takes place in the US Pacific Northwest and is full of the moody settings that location implies. It also features a creepy child whose disturbing drawings hint at supernatural goings on, and centers on a professional female protagonist with some deep-seated unresolved issues.
As it partly comes from the pen of genius Brand New Cherry Flavor (2021) screenwriter Nick Antosca, however, the film digs deep into its characters and uses its central monster as a metaphor for unstoppable beasts far more terrifying than any mythical creature. Namely, the devastating effects of economic decline, and cycles of abuse and addiction.
The subtext is almost impossible to ignore: all of the central characters are affected by one or more of these insidious issues. Like many reallife victims of such issues, they are trapped in a seemingly hopeless situation where they feel like they have little other choice than to accept the rough cards life has dealt them and muddle through.
This is where I feel like I have to include a little bit of a trigger warning: if you find scenes of implied child maltreatment and sexual abuse hard to stomach, then Antlers may prove to be a bit too harrowing to get through.
Visually Interesting, Great Performances, and a Robust Narrative
Despite the at-times incredibly heavy subject matter, Antlers is a great story. Jules, played by Keri Russel in a powerhouse performance, has an immensely satisfying character arc. Child actor Jeremy T Thomas also does a great job at portraying a troubled yet resilient and resourceful youngster. And the film does ultimately have a little bit of hope to offer, however hard-won and tentative.
The film is also gorgeously shot and inventive in its use of different color palettes and settings. The gnarly design of the monster, which like in Sweetheart (2019) is wisely largely kept offscreen, has producer Guillermo Del Toro’s imaginative fingerprints all over it.
And, as in Antosca’s Channel Zero (2016-2018) , which I included on my list of underrated TV shows 2000-2020, Antlers features some memorably surreal and disturbing imagery which is sure to stick with you long after the credits roll.
Final Score: 8/10
Worth Checking Out?
Yes, if you can handle the realistic depiction of some harrowing issues, then Antlers proves to be a smart and absorbing monster film that is beautifully shot, well-acted, and a satisfying story.
Directed by Scott Cooper
Stay tuned for my next Sitges Double Feature review, coming soon!