Ever since the great pandemic of 2020 started taking shape in the US, I have been fetishizing the idea of escaping into the woods. This is far from a realistic, practical, or even safe thing for me to do under the current circumstances, but watching Małgorzata Szumowska’s religious cult horror/drama, I found myself making the journey for ninety-seven minutes without leaving my living room.
The Other Lamb takes a page from several other cult pictures – Martha Marcy May Marlene is perhaps the most obvious jump-off point – and then brings it to nature, earning comparisons with Jennifer Kent’s brutal wilderness-set revenge film, The Nightingale. Szumowska’s film may not be as didactic an exploration of its subject as the former or as graphically visceral as the latter, but it establishes a theme of sexual repression (perhaps rote at this point) early on and amplifies the dread with nightmarish visuals (which may or not be the product of actual nightmares) and a soundtrack overwhelmed by the sounds of women screaming and crying, often times simultaneously.
The performances here are great, particularly Raffey Cassidy in the lead role as a woman born into the cult and Michiel Huisman as its leader. They both have their fair share of tense scenes and Cassidy, in particular, really runs the emotional gamut. But the real start of the show here is the lush cinematography by Michal Englert – who also previously worked with Szumowska on In the Name Of – which mixes forest vistas and startling bloody imagery to great effect.
Szumowska seems to be building off of prior themes with this film, in both the aberrant combination of sex and religion in In the Name Of and the politics and agency associated with sex work (and female sexuality in general) in Elles. The Other Lamb may not be as good of a film as either of those – its ideas don’t feel fully realized and the payoff is muted – but it’s a distinctly authored work nonetheless and visually striking enough that the lack of theatrical screenings in the current cinema landscape feels like a great disservice. This is a worthy rental and something that those interested in the topic should find plenty to engage with.