×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Other Lamb’

An female religious cult is subservient to its lone male in Malgorzata Szumowska's visually striking but flawed English-language debut.

Director:
Malgorzata Szumowska
With:
Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, Denise Gough

Running time: 97 MIN.

Movies about religious cults used to be a relatively rare occurrence. They’ve grown more frequent of late, however, surely sending up some kind of emergency flare to illuminate disturbing general cultural trends. “The Other Lamb” is just one of several such films at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, and as the English-language debut of Polish helmer Malgorzata Szumowska (“Mug,” “Body,” “Elles”) may have the best shot among them at finding a substantial audience beyond the festival circuit.

Still, this often visually striking tale of an all-female cult in thrall to its lone-male leader is very much art-house fare — slowly paced, terse with character and narrative insight. In the end, the director and screenwriter Catherine S. McMullen don’t really seem to be saying anything more complicated than the basic notion that blind submission to a patriarch is bad news for women, children and probably men as well. Still, the film’s poetical aesthetics cast a spell that may intoxicate some viewers and critics.

We don’t learn much about the history of “The Flock,” a group of about 20 women living as apparent forest squatters in what seems meant to be the Pacific Northwest. (Though the film was shot in rural Ireland, the actors all perform with American accents.) The sun to their planets is “the Shepherd” (Dutch thesp Michiel Huisman, best known here for several recent cable series including “Game of Thrones”), who’s got the Jesus Christ Superstar look down. He acts like a rock god in other ways as well — these women worship him with their bodies as well as their faith, as testified by the number of exclusively female children they’ve brought into the tribe. Those offspring have never known any other life, being kept at a fearful safe distance from mainstream society’s “rot of the world.”

Our focus is on teenage Selah (Raffey Cassidy from “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Tomorrowland”), a teen whose mother died in childbirth. She’s a favorite with the Shepherd, not just for her beauty, but because her “purity” hasn’t yet been tainted by menstruation. (Though this sect does not appear to be particularly Christian, there is nonetheless much citing of “Eve’s sin.”) Yet despite her complete ignorance of secular values, Selah is beginning to question community ways, as generally determined by the Shepherd’s arbitrary and punitive whims. When a visit by local law enforcement suggests the Flock’s residency here is an illegality that will no longer be tolerated, their leader announces they must find a “new Eden” to dwell in, effective immediately.

The ensuing arduous journey on foot only underlines Selah’s rebelliousness, as she sees how fallible the Shepherd is: Some of his decisions take a terrible toll. The cruelty beneath his surface charisma doesn’t come out in particularly surprising or complex ways, nor does the vague belief system he offers seem anything more than generically self-serving. This is problematic, because “The Other Lamb” sits uneasily between psychological realism and something more fable-like.

We’re told the older women were “broken” when they joined up, seemingly so damaged by life they were willing to place complete trust in one self-appointed Messianic figure. But despite no characters save the two leads (plus Denise Gough as an older devotee turned semi-outcast) being given any real dimensionality, the members of this “Sisterhood” don’t seem dull or frightened enough to surrender so much control, particularly when the Shepherd grows abusive. Huisman is a skilled actor and attractive specimen, but whether deliberately or not, he doesn’t project the kind of magnetism here that might make so many forswear self-determination to serve his puerile alpha male fantasies.

So there’s not a lot of punch to the eventual disasters that befall this group, or the final coup d’état — events that in any case are all staged as emotionally distanced formal tableaux, when shown at all. In DP Michal Englert’s hands, “The Other Lamb” has a quantity of lovely, sometimes rapturous images. The wives in their red frontier-style dresses and the daughters in their blue ones comprise a striking sight against the beautifully photographed scenery. But there’s also way too much time wasted on actors staring meaningfully into the middle distance, writhing slo-mo in diaphanous white gowns underwater, and so forth.

After a while, all these visual poetics start to feel like a pretentious means of suggesting enigmatic depth where there really is none. The Shepherd is too patently a false idol to warrant this much mysterioso atmosphere, and the movie’s indictment of such a sitting-duck target lacks power, even as metaphor.

Nonetheless, “The Other Lamb” (which does, indeed, feature quite a number of winsome sheep) is often so arrestingly pretty to behold that some viewers may well decide its beauty offers profundity enough. Editor Jaroslaw Kaminski provides just the right tempo so the spare story feels more hypnotic than torpid, and Pawel Mykietyn’s primarily chamber-string score heightens the rarefied mood.

Related:

Toronto Film Review: 'The Other Lamb'

Reviewed at TIFF (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2019. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: (Ireland-Belgium-U.S.) A Rooks Nest, Preservation Services presentation of a Rumble Film, Subotica production, in association with Zentropa, and in co-production with UMedia. (Int'l sales: CAA, Los Angeles; Trust Nordisk, Hvidovre.) Producers: David Lancaster, Stephanie Wilcox, Aoife O’Sullivan, Tristan Orpen Lynch, Maria Gade Denessen. Executive producers: Jon Schiffman, Andrew Schwartzberg, Julia Godzinskaya, Will Norton, Sophie Vickers, Beata Saboova, Anders Kjaerhauge.

Crew: Director: Malgorzata Szumowska. Screenplay: Catherine S. McMullen. Camera (color, HD): Michal Englert. Editor: Jaroslaw Kaminski. Music: Pawel Mykietyn.

With: Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, Denise Gough, Ailbhe Cowley, Eve Connolly, Isabelle Connolly, Jane Herbert, Aislin McGuckin, Kelly Campbell, Eva Mullen, Esosa Ighodaro, Maria Oxley Boardman, Mallory Adams, Irene Kelleher, Grainne Good, Juliette Crosbie, Zara Devlin, Aisling Doyle, Phoebe Sheppard.

More Film

  • Isabela Moner Dora the Explorer

    Film News Roundup: Isabela Merced Boards Jason Momoa's 'Sweet Girl' for Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, Isabela Merced get cast opposite Jason Momoa, “Starbright” gets financing and AFM announces its speakers. CASTING Isabela Merced, formerly Isabela Moner, has come on board to portray the daughter of Jason Momoa in his upcoming revenge thriller “Sweet Girl” for Netflix. Momoa will play a devastated man who vows to [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Seeks to Throw Out Gender Pay Gap Lawsuit

    The Walt Disney Co. is seeking to throw out a lawsuit alleging that women employees are paid less than men, arguing that the suit is too sprawling and unwieldy to handle as a class action. Andrus Anderson LLP filed the suit in April, alleging that Disney’s hiring and pay practices have a discriminatory effect on [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Christian Bale, Matt Damon to Campaign in Lead Actor Category for 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon will both campaign in the lead actor category for awards for their work in Fox’s upcoming “Ford v Ferrari,” Variety has learned. “Ford v Ferrari” follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver, Ken Miles (Bale), who [...]

  • Tezuka's Barbara film

    Tokyo Film Festival: Makoto Tezuka Probes Past and Present in 'Barbara'

    The son of the late Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “the god of manga” in Japan for his innovative and enduringly popular comics, Makoto Tezuka (also known as Macoto Tezka) long ago escaped his father’s looming shadow, carving out a career as a film and animation director. At the same time, he has [...]

  • Cuba Gooding Jr

    Cuba Gooding Jr. Sued for Allegedly Pinching Nightclub Server

    A Tao nightclub server who alleges that Cuba Gooding Jr., pinched her rear-end last year has sued the Oscar-winning actor for sexual battery. Natasha Ashworth had previously come forward to New York law enforcement, though her name had not been released publicly. Gooding was indicted last week on four misdemeanor counts, including two counts stemming [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content