The Other Lamb would make one heck of a great double feature with Midsommar. Both are about the way cults control the minds of their members and leave them in a state of destruction. (Well, Midsommar is about a lot of things, but that's certainly one of them.) Director Malgorzara Szumowska and writer Catherine S. McMullen put you inside the central cult, allowing you to observe the increasingly troublesome goings-on through the eyes of a young woman realizing that she's in a seriously messed-up situation.
Selah (the outstanding Raffey Cassidy) is a teenager whose mother died during childbirth. She remains in the all-female cult her mom was part of. It's run by “the Shepherd” (Michiel Huisman), a long-haired Jesus wannabe who has the women divided into two groups. His wives wear purple, and his daughters wear blue. Each night, Shepherd chooses one of them to receive his grace (i.e. have sex with him). The whole thing is wildly incestuous, yet all of the women become rapturous at the prospect of being in his favor. That's how much power he wields over them.
Selah begins to have doubts, though. Certain things she sees cause her to second guess the motivations of Shepherd. For guidance, she turns to Sarah (Denise Gough), the black sheep of the cult. Sarah has been banished to live by herself, away from the others, and offers further evidence of the leader's shadiness. From there, a number of events occur that build to a shocking moment – one which brings Selah's concerns to a head.
The Other Lamb has a lot going on thematically. Without spoiling their meaning, there are multiple references to menstruation and Shepherd's reactions to his daughters being pure/impure. That gives the story depth and elevates it beyond being a mere thriller. Szumowska and McMullen are interested in examining the influence creepy men can exert on women, and how those men can wrap their exploitative nature in a phony veneer of compassion or love. They infuse the film with a great deal of relevance.
Excellent cinematography helps to convey the remoteness of where the cult lives. It also provides a sense of eeriness during a couple of dream-like sequences that provide perspective on what Selah is thinking or experiencing fear about. (Director of Photography Michal Englert pulls off what may be the best dolly zoom I've ever seen in the process.) By making the setting both authentic and foreboding, it becomes easy to get invested in the story. At times, you even kind of forget that you're watching a work of fiction because the atmosphere feels so genuine.
Midsommar set the bar on films about cults pretty high. The Other Lamb doesn't go as deep as that one does, nor does it have as many layers. It is, however, an extremely well-acted picture with ideas worth contemplating. Cassidy and Huisman deliver excellent performances, creating a disturbing dynamic between Selah and Shepherd that keeps you unsettled throughout.
Anyone looking for a smart, provocative chiller with a strong perspective should absolutely check out The Other Lamb.
out of four
The Other Lamb is unrated, but contains sexuality and some bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.