Filled with beautifully composed images but lacking fresh insight into the genre, The Other Lamb is a cult movie unlikely to find a cult.
Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska’s first English-language film concerns the all-female followers of a wolf-in-casual-clothing leader. Shot in rural Ireland with nary a passerby to be seen, The Other Lamb sticks to its vacuum-sealed universe, where the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman) controls his flock of women and grooms them for eventual motherhood (provided the offspring are female).
We don’t know how the cult started beyond hints that the initial women were “broken.” And we don’t know how they manage to stay out of sight. What we do know is that the role of Selah (Raffey Cassidy) in the group changes once she begins menstruation. And that, after eviction pushes the flock out into a journey to a “new Eden,” something’s got to give.
How and why individuals join, stay in or leave cults have proven effective subjects in the past. Ticket to Heaven (1981) and Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) are just two very different examples well worth revisiting. More recently, last year’s Midsommar demonstrated that solid acting and a creepy buildup can carry a film at least part of the way toward satisfaction (although I won’t go into my thoughts on the climax).
The Other Lamb, though, puts too much emphasis on tone and not enough on character, plot or surprise. Cassidy is fine and Denise Gough, as an older member of the cult on the brink of irrelevance, provides some moments of engagement. But neither can keep what seems like a 10-page script from feeling stretched well beyond its breaking point.
When the inevitable sexual violence and its aftermath arrive, viewers should be feeling disgust and catharsis. Instead, there’s disappointment that the film didn’t have more to it … and relief that it finally reached its telegraphed endpoint.