If Midsommar made you consider, even for a second, the pros of joining a cult, you can think of The Other Lamb as a visual list of the cons. Lushly directed by Malgorzata Szumowska, this film is filled to the brim with animalistic symbolism and deftly constructed nature scenes. The silent woods and craggy mountains, captured with a mixture of love and fear by Szumowska’s camera, are the highpoints of a cult movie that slowly winds its way through well trod territory. Even shocking scenes of murder, sexual assault, incest and cannibalism don’t break through the monotony.
If anything, it’s the perfect PSA. Instead of seeming cool, secretive, magic or powerful, this all female cult, led by their lone male Shepherd (played sleazy and spiritual by Game of Thrones star Michiel Huisman) is filled with monotony. Dressed in jewel tones that stand out against the greens and browns of the forest, the women cook and clean and keep things running. In what feels like a nod to The Handmaid’s Tale, wives of the Shepard are dressed in purple, while the daughters don blue. They sleep in big beds and squabble and attend services with their Shepherd, who whips them up into a frenzy by smearing blood on their faces. Classic cult stuff.
Selah (played with sharp, all knowing eyes by Raffey Cassidy), a devoted daughter of the Shepherd, begins to blur the line between wife and daughter, between fervent follower and rebel. She disrespects a young wife and longs to be in the arms of the Shepherd, but as she learns more about her deceased mother, she starts to question it all. The cult, and Selah specifically, are pushed to their limits when they’re suddenly kicked off their land. Forced to walk for miles through desolate landscapes, Selah grows more suspicious of the Shepard as his violent outbursts and wild cruelty become more apparent.
The Other Lamb is a deeply isolating movie. The group is completely alone, and save for a single interaction with a police officer, they couldn’t feel more cut off from the world. Even nature seems to abandon them. As their luck runs out and they go searching for a new place to live, the once vibrant scenery becomes more and more desolate. More than being cut off from the world, The Other Lamb lacks the feeling of cooperation and togetherness shown in most movie cults. By focusing the story on Selah, who is coming of age and questioning the world around her, the movie makes you feel like an outsider within a band of outsiders. It doesn’t help that the movie occasionally goes surreal, showing us images of Selah with her face covered in blood, Selah squaring up against a ram, Selah alone on a mountain top and a Antichrist-esque image of a skinned animal.
For a movie so thick with imagery (animal imagery, religious imagery, you name it, it’s in there), The Other Lamb doesn’t seem to be saying much beyond cults are bad and so is the patriarchy, two concepts we should already be very familiar with. If as much attention and detail was put into the script as it was into beautifully composed shots (you can’t fault this movie’s style, it’s gorgeous from top to bottom), this review would be very different.