A24 as genre in ‘Lamb’

You can really see the Midsommar in what feels like a deliberate homage here, when she puts Ada in a crown of flowers. Images courtesy A24.

3/10 As movies continue to centralize and series entries become more uniform, A24 studios, which still feels like an upstart studio after nine years in operation, has been a haven for weirder films. But as the distributor has become more widely known and more associated with narrower kinds of entries, we’ve seen tropes and very specific audience expectations develop, threatening to turn what started out as weird and new into a genre to be repeated ad nauseum.

Lamb is that development.

Rural Iceland- Sheep farming couple María and Ingvar (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) discover one of their flock has given birth to a lamb with the torso and lower body of a human. They name the hybrid Ada after their own lost daughter and raise her as their own child. Most of the surface-level conflict in the film is between them and Ada’s birth mother, who wants to raise her own child, and Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), who comes to crash with them after Ada is about a year old and is shocked by her presence.

Lamb is the movie people who don’t have the patience for The Witch or Midsommar feel like they’re watching.

Many A24 horror movies are slow to the point that they can feel like little is happening, but in Lamb, nothing actually is happening. Most scenes feel eternal, and the whole 106-minute movie feels more than twice as long as it should be. The family trauma and religious angles that sustain its slow sister movies is also absent, leaving only a slow movie with lots of wilderness shots and farm animals.

Even in its tedium, Lamb raises several startling questions about the nature of family, the right to life and anthropocentrism in general, but these questions are raised merely by its premise, and its conflicts largely avoid mining them. The film itself seems aware of this when it tries to play with a new plotline halfway through – Pétur is infatuated with his sister-in-law, and a lot of the back half of the movie is spent on him being a sex pest instead of on Ada.

There’s a lot to get into about the philosophy of Lamb with regard to the right to life, which thankfully doesn’t really touch on American abortion politics by both only dealing with a creature that is already born and, you know, not being American. Its primary thesis is on the instinct to nurture and love unconditionally even in a situation that calls for other considerations – before it gets bored with itself and decides to be about something else for a while, that is.

The string of slow, nature- and family-based horror from a distribution company that buys its films from the festival circuit, meaning A24 almost never owns its films before they’re fully completed and screening in competitions – Lamb was already an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival before they acquired its U.S. rights – let alone having a hand in production to make them uniform the way larger studios are known to, is a fascinating study in convergent evolution. It’s not as simple as the studio acquiring a distinct kind of movie, as plenty of their acquisitions aren’t anything like this emerging “A24 horror” subgenre, and even if it were, there’d still be more depth to it than that, since it frequently ends up funding the sophomore pictures of directors is distributes the debuts of.

We’re also at a point where many of the films A24 acquires seem directly inspired by its previous purchases. Lamb in particular feels directly inspired by The Witch, which also heavily featured the family’s barn animals and had similar color grading, and Midsommar, with which it shares a slight affinity for flowers and psychedelic imagery – The Green Knight, another A24 film from earlier this year, also appeared to pull props and iconography directly from those two films and Hereditary.

Lamb is the first real dud along these lines and none of the studio’s other four releases this year look like they’ll be part of this genre, but success leads to imitation, and those imitations seek the surface in pipelines A24 was already mining, so it likely won’t be the last.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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