Cults are fertile ground for exploring gender dynamics in a vacuum, and so The Other Lamb, helmed by Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska, is perfectly fitted to the conditions of insularity. Bordering horror and psychological thriller, the film meanders through a crisp aesthetic, first seducing the viewer into the remote and idealized country lives of the Shepherd (Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman), his red-frocked “wives,” and blue-frocked “daughters.” The film loses its grip as it becomes more apparent that its ideas, and not only its characters, are debilitated by a sealed-off worldview.
The adolescent and devout Selah (Raffey Cassidy), worships her Shepherd, ostensibly her father and also her crush. According to the film’s logic, the Shepherd finds his wives in the modern world, lost souls yearning for safety, salvation, food, shelter, and ordered life with scripts and dogma ripe for the picking—typical cult stuff. But Selah, a daughter, can’t be a wife… or can she? That’s the primary tension the film offers, but by leaning heavily on psychological illegibility as a kind of aesthetic, themes of incest, misogyny, and domestic violence are sublimated into a coming-of-age story where horror is rendered relentlessly ethereal.
The Shepherd models himself after Jesus and is unoriginal in countless other ways—his storytelling is vague and repetitive, his cruelty is a calculated form of control that depends on his “grace,” which he only gives to his wives. And every cult of women led by a man must be based on notions of purity and dirtiness, so there is a “broken thing,” a hardened wife cast-off, unable to commune with the group, living in a hut and trailing behind on a long journey on foot. The Irish actress Denise Gough plays Sarah, the cast-off (American) cult wife who no longer knows herself, and so allows herself to be physically mutilated by the Shepherd, who believes she is too vain. Sarah is the film’s most compelling character, and The Other Lamb only ever finds its focus, and stronger set of ideas, when she speaks.
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