Every week, new original films debut on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.
The Other Lamb
The premise: A group of girls and women live in a mysterious secluded compound with a man they call “Shepherd.” On the cusp of puberty, one pious young woman starts to question the world she’s grown up in.
What it’s about: The Other Lamb (from director Małgorzata Szumowska) is eerie and starkly beautiful. The film melds two familiar territories for horror — cults and women’s bodies — into one dread-soaked Bildungsroman.
The tale centers on Selah (Raffey Cassidy), who is in her early teens. She lives with the all-female group in the woods, where they raise sheep and live off the grid. The girls wear blue dresses; the women wear red dresses. The split reflects their differing roles in the group: a blue dress means you’re a “daughter,” and a red dress signifies that you are a “wife.”
These are not euphemisms. Selah has grown up in this group, a cult that operates as a large, polygamous family, with the man they call Shepherd (Michiel Huisman) as their adored, unquestioningly obeyed leader. The wives are women in dire circumstances whom Shepherd found and brought into his fold, and who worship him for the way he cares for them and makes them feel seen and special. The daughters are children the women have borne Shepherd. Selah, the eldest of the daughters, is Shepherd’s favorite.
Shepherd seems kind, at first, but as Selah matures and then experiences menstruation for the first time, her relationships with both the man who is her father and the women who serve and love him starts to change. They shift even more when she meets Sarah (Denise Gough), who lives on the outskirts of the community, seemingly shunned but unwilling to leave the group. And with Selah’s growth into womanhood comes a change in her beliefs.
The Other Lamb recalls everything from The Witch and The Handmaid’s Tale to Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie. Horror has long been interested in female bodies that are used, and abused, by men, and how they often become entwined inextricably with practices of twisted religious devotion.
What makes The Other Lamb feel fresh is how Szumowska renders her world — in vivid colors and inky blacks, with slow zooms that turn their placid, pastoral lives into something uncanny. She cuts away from a face mid-scream, or nestles a frightening image into a frame in such a way that it’s startling when you suddenly see it. Chilly, precisely designed scenes make for a sharp juxtaposition with images of blood, violence, and birth. And the feeling that something very wrong is going on here is inscribed into every exacting, unnerving shot.
Critical reception: The Other Lamb has earned generally favorable reviews from critics. At SlashFilm, Marisa Mirabal writes that “The Other Lamb is a festering wound of a film, one that elicits prolonged pain and suffering but offers a collective understanding.”