THE STORY – A young woman born into an all-female cult beings to question the teachings of her leader.
THE CAST – Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman & Denise Gough
THE TEAM – Małgorzata Szumowska (Director) & C.S. McMullen (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
By Dan Bayer
Something happens to you when you hit puberty. You start looking at the world differently, becoming aware of things you never saw before and seeing things you thought you knew in a different light. Growing up in a strict religious atmosphere can make that even harder as you begin to feel things you have been told you should never feel – if you have any context for them at all. Małgorzata Szumowska’s “The Other Lamb” tells the story of Selah (Raffey Cassidy), a young girl being raised in a cult headed by a man everyone calls Shepherd – “everyone” in this case being his many wives and daughters. On the brink of puberty when the film starts, Selah begins to have unsettling, often violent, and sometimes sexual visions, and not just when she’s asleep. As her body changes, she notices things about Shepherd (Michiel Huisman) that don’t seem right, things that make her begin to question her faith in him.
She’s not alone in questioning, though. In perhaps the film’s smartest move, when she finally gets her period, she’s forced to spend a lot of time with shunned wife Sarah (Denise Gough), who came to the cult at the same time as Selah’s dead mother. Sarah has seen more of Shepherd than seemingly anyone else and knows the ways of the world; like the fact that having your period is a natural thing, not a punishment for being somehow impure as Selah has been taught. The more time Selah spends with Sarah, the more she believes her, and the more she begins to see Shepherd’s actions for what they really are: A means of controlling the women around him.
This is all somewhat boilerplate, to be sure. But Szumowska makes it all feel new and interesting anyway, making a film that’s thick with atmosphere. It’s that atmosphere that draws you in. Michal Englert’s striking cinematography works in tandem with the unsettling sound mix and bold production design to completely envelop you in the world of the film. It’s hypnotic, especially as the cult is forced by the outside world to leave their home and must walk for days to find a new place to settle, traveling through some stunning locations. The imagery from “The Other Lamb” will stick in your memory long after you’ve seen it. Nearly every shot has either a surprising composition or impactful use of natural light to make it stand out. The editing by Jarosław Kamiński is sharp and precise, creating a deliberate pace that never feels too slow.
For all that the film shows us about what life in the cult is like, especially for Selah, most of the cult’s belief system is left frustratingly in the dark. Other than Huisman’s good looks and charming air, it’s unclear why these women would give up everything to be with him and then subject their daughters to the same fate. It’s also unclear what Shepherd’s desires are, other than to be followed by his adoring flock. These things don’t necessarily need to be addressed, but when the film goes out of its way to cast doubt on what in Selah’s world is real – and even if the story we have become so invested in is real – it’s hard not to wish that Szumowska and screenwriter Catherine McMullen had instead spent that time on more tangible topics. But even with that, “The Other Lamb” still casts a wicked spell, one that will leave you beguiled and a little baffled by the end, in the best way possible.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Memorably unsettling atmosphere and striking cinematography create a hypnotic viewing experience.
THE BAD – Adds mystery where there doesn’t need to be and leaves some things a mystery that would bring us deeper into the world of the story.
THE OSCARS – None