Lamb (The Orchard, NR)

Lamb 75It crafts a truly conflicted, tormented narrative that is both haunting and thrilling.

 

 

 

 

Lamb 500

The log line for Lamb is, “when a man meets a young girl in a parking lot he attempts to help her avoid a bleak destiny by initiating her into the beauty of the outside world. The journey shakes them in ways neither expects.” If you haven’t seen it, then stop reading here and go watch it. It’s best to know nothing more going in. Before I started watching, I could have sworn that I knew exactly what this movie was going to be — an uplifting coming-of-age movie about a troubled man who meets an even more troubled youth, and together they learn to look at life anew. However, early into the movie, we learn this man’s way of initiating a young girl into the “beauty of the outside world” is to kidnap her. This is a movie about child abduction, but instead of focusing on the attempts to find the child, it focuses on the relationship between the captive and the captor. At first, I wasn’t sure if Lamb was trying to be a feel-good movie and failing spectacularly. It only took about thirty minutes for me to realize they knew god damn well what they were doing¸ and damn it if it isn’t brilliant.

To expand on the log line I quoted before, Lamb is about the 47-year-old David Lamb (Ross Partridge, who also writes and directs) and his chance encounter with 11-year-old Tommie (Oona Laurence). Emotionally numb after the death of his father and a rough divorce, he’s living in a hotel and continuing a relationship with the kind-hearted Linny (Jess Weixler), which seemingly began before his marriage ended. After seeing that the misguided Tommie is a point of derision by her friends, neglected by her parents, and living in a housing project, he takes it upon himself to become sort of a father-figure to her. This surrogate-parent relationship, already initiated in the most questionable of ways, escalates rapidly into creepier and more uncomfortable territory when he drives, apparently through multiple states, with the young girl and they stay together in several hotels under fake names.

It won’t be until you’re well into the film that you’ll appreciate how well done the character building and writing is in this script. In the beginning, we quickly bond with Lamb as a protagonist because of his emotional grief, charm (in large part due to Partridge’s performance), and his having fallen on hard times. But subtle notes of his dishonesty and darkness are sprinkled in. He lies frequently and casually. He levels with the young Tommie in an admirable way, but he often treats her too much like an adult, such as letting her have a cigarette when she asks for one. He “pretends” to kidnap her to play a prank on her friends, something she never explicitly agrees to let him do. Although Tommie expresses genuine affection for Lamb, it’s clear that she has arrived at this state of mind due to Lamb’s calculated emotional manipulation. Lamb does everything you hear about child predators doing, such as telling Tommie she’s beautiful and perfect, buying her clothes, coaching her on what to say to police and strangers, and framing all of their activities as if it is her choice. And yet, Lamb does not come across as malicious or even lecherous (whether or not his affection towards Tommie is pedophilic is left ambiguous, although there are a few key scenes that are both disturbing and damning for his character). Later in the film, we start to get hints as to his intentions, and they seem to come more from a delusional attempt at achieving closure with his troubled childhood and a desire to impart some sort of spiritual gift onto Tommie.

The film’s greatest achievement is creating a truly formidable challenge for the audience in terms of how to feel about the characters and what is right and wrong given these highly specific circumstances. It crafts a truly conflicted, tormented narrative that is both haunting and thrilling. It’s been three days since I saw Lamb, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. | Nic Champion

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