In Malgorzata Szumowska’s slow paced but menacing cult horror-drama, a teenage girl leads a one-person rebellion against the patriarchy.
Has Midsommar left a hole in your life that can’t be filled? The Other Lamb may just be the movie to meet your needs. While not as overtly horrifying as the earlier film, it too focuses on the inexplicably seductive world of cults, reserving its most unsettling scenes for broad daylight.
Director Malgorzata Szumowksa’s English language debut and written by C.S. McMullen, The Other Lamb stars Raffey Cassidy as Selah, a young teenage member of a largely female cult. The sole male member is, unsurprisingly, the leader, who is only referred to as the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). Though it appears to take place in the present (or certainly a time not so far past), the women dress in the modest garb of 19th century farm wives, color coded according to their relationship with the Shepherd. The “wives” and “daughters” have tense relationships with each other, well aware that they are in constant competition for both the Shepherd’s attention, and his affection.
Tearing a page from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Cult, the Shepherd talks a lot of the usual jive about how he “saved” the girls from their broken lives and has visions of a utopia where they can be free. Despite it sounding like utter horseshit (let alone horseshit that’s been said by every would-be cult leader since the dawn of time), it sends these naive young girls into fits of shrieking, rapturous exaltation. Selah, perhaps the most pious members of the cult, begins to struggle with her beliefs, particularly once she starts her period, meaning she’ll soon be upgraded from “daughter” to “wife” (which also means she’ll soon be aware of the Shepherd’s bizarre, repulsive sexual fetish).
While not as overtly horrifying, it too focuses on the inexplicably seductive world of cults, reserving its most unsettling scenes for broad daylight.
Things become all the more troubling for Selah after she spends time with Sarah (Denise Gough), once the Shepherd’s favorite wife, now shunned for what she says was “vanity” on her part. Sarah doesn’t explain what this means, and it’s possible she doesn’t know — after all, the Shepherd says (and does) a lot of things the women are supposed to accept without question. Selah also finds herself having eerie visions of dead animals, her own face splattered with blood, and a sheep staring balefully at her. At perhaps just fourteen or fifteen, she’s far too young to understand what any of this means, but she at least knows that something isn’t right here, and that there might be a reason why she and the others aren’t permitted to question the word of the Shepherd.
If you’re looking for non-stop terror, The Other Lamb isn’t it. It has the languid, eerie pacing of a dream, made all the more unsettling by occasional glimpses of normal life, like a Barbie doll (albeit one dressed in the same style as the cult members) displayed in a window. Further disorienting things is that we have no idea when, or where, this takes place, let alone that it’s suggested the Shepherd has been maintaining his flock, as it were, for years, but only appears to be in his 30s. When Selah has a vision of herself wearing a high school letter jacket and riding in the back of a car, is it a flashback, or a yearning daydream of normalcy? Would she even know what “normal” looks like for a teenage girl? The Other Lamb doesn’t have much new to say about the nature of cults themselves, but effectively evokes that stumbling around in the dark feeling that comes from being gaslit.
Cassidy, last seen in Vox Lux, has a luminous, Saiorse Ronan-like presence, with a spooky intensity matched only by Huisman as the Shepherd, who never has to raise his voice to be intimidating. Selah and the Shepherd’s interactions with each other crackle with equal parts desire, distrust, and fear. The only difference is that Selah doesn’t understand why she should be afraid of the Shepherd. But he sure knows why he should be afraid of her.
The Other Lamb is now available on VOD.