In horror cinema, cults are the gift that keeps on giving.
Even in films that skirt the edge of the genre, there’s something deeply unsettling with seeing seemingly sentient people give themselves over to a belief that’s easily disproven, a prophet who is obviously self-serving.
“The Other Lamb” takes the metaphors and imagery of many a fundamentalist Christian sect and carries them into David Koresh country. And even if we see what the 20 or so women, girls and children apparently cannot, even if we instinctively know where this is going, it’s still a rich and absorbing variation on a well-worn theme.
Somewhere in America’s remote highlands (County Wicklow, Ireland, actually), The Shepherd has used his Jesus coiffure and beard to lure dozens of women into his “Flock.”
They eat together and tend sheep together. At meals, he (Michiel Huisman) makes a point of thanking his “wives” and “daughters” for their efforts. And then he walks down the table and selects a bedmate for the night.
No one questions him. No one ponders his obsession with blood, wonders why only little girls are born here, or breaks ranks to protest his rejection/revulsion of young women who become “impure,” via menstruation.
But feisty Selah (Raffey Cassidy of “Tomorrowland”) is having these dreams — women underwater, violence, upheaval. She quarrels with her “sisters.”
And then she meets the “wife” in exile, who tends to others as they turn “impure.” Sarah (Denis Gough of “A Dark Place”) is the lone cynic in this community of females who dress alike, wear their hair in identical braids and weave thread out of the wool of their sheep, creating webs in the woods, covering the rafters of the structures in their woodland camp.
Sarah’s warning that as “pious and pure” and Selah might be, “Our great shepherd won’t be so sweet on you” once the blood begins.
Obsessing about it won’t help. She can’t hide it from her sisters. And these visions and dreams, coupled with Sarah’s warnings, make her question the way things are — how she got there and what’s really going on.
Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska (You remember “Body?” ) has crafted a pristine, chilly tale of faith, prophecy and slow-to-awaken empowerment, a world upended when The Outside (the cops) starts sniffing around.
The Flock’s cross-country flight from authority will test them, their faith and their pretty-boy Shepherd (Huisman was in “Game of Thrones” and “The Age of Adaline”).
The spare setting gives “The Other Lamb” the look and feel of a parable, a little feminist Biblical horror for us to immerse ourselves in as we’re parsing its (obvious, but metaphoric) meaning.
It lacks the shocks of “Midsommer,” the perverse comedy of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” and the violence of “The Wicker Man.” But it’s still a good yarn, cautionary, allegorical, well-acted and stoically played out to its inevitable conclusion.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sex, nudity
Cast: Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough, Michiel Huisman
Credits: Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska, script by C.S. McMullen. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:37