Writer: Catherine S McMullen
Director: Małgorzata Szumowska
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The Handmaid’s Tale hangs heavy over Małgorzata Szumowska’s first English-language film about a cult leader and his female disciples trekking across moors and mountains to find a new home. While beautifully shot, The Other Lamb is too laden with familiar horror tropes and the story isn’t as involving as it should be.
The women are divided into wives wearing red dresses, and daughters wearing green dresses. It’s unclear whether the single man is the father of these younger women, although it’s more clear that once of age these girls will change the colour of their dresses. All the disciples call the man ‘The Shepherd’ and he appears to be their God rather than a conduit to Him. He looks a bit like Jesus and his image is scrawled into the bark of trees.
One of the girls, Selah, is just about to come of age and her first period arrives unexpectedly when she’s tending sheep and their lambs. When any woman is menstruating she has to leave the commune and live in a shack, as she is believed to be unclean. It’s wiser to get pregnant, but soon Selah starts doubting The Shepherd’s teachings.
Explanations are slow in coming, and as a result the story seems neither real nor allegorical. The acting is earnest, and there’s little new in the images of silent screams, dead sheep and women floating around in white virginal dresses. Everyone does as well as they can with a plot that never rises to its potential. Denise Gough seems miscast as the outcast Sarah; she would have been out of there in heartbeat. Game of Thrones star Michiel Huisman isn’t particularly enigmatic and his dialogue seems a mess of clichés. It rests on Raffey Cassidy as Selah to carry the story, but too often all we see of her is an angry quizzical face.
It’s a long slog to Eden, and while this film has a certain chilly charm, this cross between horror and dystopian drama falls flat.
The BFI London Film Festival 2019 runs from 2 October to 13 October