"If you're going to make a film, you definitely should make a film that you really want to see yourself," Lamb director Valdimar Jóhannsson tells GamesRadar+. "We were basically making a film that we wanted to see and felt that we had not seen."
In Lamb, Noomi Rapace plays María, a farmer who lives in a remote part of Iceland with her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). Still grieving the loss of their only child, the couple discovers that one of their sheep has given birth to a lamb-human hybrid who they name Ada and adopt as their own. What follows is an uneasy journey, as the unlikely family tries to make their situation work at any cost.
"When I first read [the script], I just felt like I'd been waiting for this my entire life, as long as I've been acting," says Rapace, who's best known for her roles in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Prometheus. "It felt like such a unique and personal and intimate script. And because it's very sparse on words, and it's very stripped down, it felt like an epic story told in the most intimate way."
Lamb is Jóhannsson's directorial debut – he says the movie is an inherently Icelandic story, but another reason for choosing the location was Rapace's wooly co-stars. "I think we have the most beautiful sheep,” he says. Rapace agrees, adding: "The sheep in Iceland have a specific look, I've shot movies in other countries with sheep and I was like, 'Oh, that's weird. Is that a sheep?'" Rapace also reveals that she delivered a lamb during her first day on set: "That was my first scene."
So it's an Icelandic movie, but is it a horror movie, as much of the film's marketing has suggested? "No," Jóhannsson says, adding that he finds this categorization "strange". "It's a family drama!" Rapace adds with a laugh.
And she's not wrong. María, Ingvar, and Ada's attempts at domestic familial bliss come at a price, but one that María is willing to fight for. "Her desperation to become a mother and to heal that big wound inside is so desperate and so strong," Rapace explains.
"So when this opportunity comes, when Ada is born, she just grabs onto that possibility and to that opportunity to be a mother again, and to act out that role as an act of healing. I think that the need to be a mother again, the violence and the primal side that that evokes in her is so strong. She has a great tenderness, but also the brutality and violence in her comes up, and it strives her in certain situations because that's how strong the need is to experience motherhood again, and be a mother again, to be able to heal."
The film has a real sense of claustrophobia despite the rural Icelandic setting and the wide open spaces that come with that. How did Jóhannsson achieve that tension? "The farm is surrounded by mountains, but when we were shooting it was daylight for 24 hours," he says.
"That is claustrophobic!" Rapace adds. "It drives you mad. It's like two in the morning, and it's full-on daylight, and it's like, 'Okay, I'm going insane'. Like, there's no stopping and beginning, it's just kind of a haze." Jóhannsson agrees: "And I also feel it's scary that you can see everything, and everybody can see you. I feel it's more scary than the dark."
Lamb is a quiet film, which adds to that underlying sense of unease. There isn't a lot of dialogue, and the score is very minimal. "I love that there's a lot of silence and the silence allows you to live and to think and reflect," Rapace says.
"I was talking to my sister about it yesterday, actually, that so many movies, the score is so heavy, and it's drowning each scene and she was like, 'Why don't they trust the actors?' And I feel like [Jóhannsson] really [does] trust us, and I felt like I could just lean back and allow myself to rest in the story. Because this story has its own life form and its own rhythm, and we didn't need to hide or to fill it up and to boost it with things because it's like a natural kind of rhythm."
And now that he's got his first feature film under his belt, what's next for Jóhannsson? "I really would like to do perfume commercials and music videos for a while and then do another film after probably two or three years. I think that would be a nice plan."
Lamb is in UK cinemas now, and will stream on MUBI in 2022.