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  Other Lamb, The Don't Follow Leaders
Year: 2019
Director: Malgorzata Szumowska
Stars: Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, Mallory Adams, Kelly Campbell, Eve Connolly, Isabelle Connolly, Ailbhe Cowley, Zara Devlin, Denise Gough, Jane Herbert, Irene Kelleher, Charlotte Moore, David Fawaz, Juliette Crosbie, Eva Mullen
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Selah (Raffey Cassidy) is a girl in her early teens who has known no other life than as part of the flock of the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). That flock consists of some actual sheep, and also some women and girls who follow him like metaphorical sheep, divided into "wives" and "daughters", for that's what they are, the partners and offspring of this leader. They live in small cabins deep in the forest, where they have no contact with the outside world, and receive no news about any alternatives to their existences thanks to a complete lack of electricity in their compound. Selah is always energised when the Shepherd pays any attention to her - but for how long?

The Other Lamb was, behind the camera, a collaboration between two intriguing women, the Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, here venturing into the English language for the first time, and Australian writer Catherine S. McMullen, who had already established herself as an author of provocative horror and science fiction from the age of eleven, when she started out. This combination delivered a work that was part cult drama, as in a drama about a religious cult, and part horror, as the members gradually begin to wise up that their glorious leader does not have their best interests at heart, he has very much his own interests paramount in his thoughts.

The fact that he had created a next generation of his flock is bad enough - Selah's mother, we learn, died in childbirth, though that is not the whole story - but worse than that, he has started using his daughters to sire a next generation after theirs, an incestuous plan that has his twisted outlook visiting a very stark case of abuse on some already very vulnerable girls. He has worked out some interpretation of the Christian Bible where it is clear he regards himself as a Christlike figure, and expects the women and girls to treat him as such, but his extended power trip has, predictably, gone straight to his head and despite his outwardly benevolent demeanour, he is a monster.

Now, monsters have been victimising females since time immemorial, which doesn't excuse it, but does establish where Szumowska and McMullen were coming from. So what we watching want to know is, is this increasingly violent madman going to get his comeuppance? By using a mixture of affection and outright threats, he appears to have the flock under his thumb; one of the most interesting characters is Sarah (Denise Gough), an ex-wife who has been banished to the outer orbit if the clan. When she is asked by Selah why she has not simply left, she gives the reason that many trapped in an abusive cycle will give: she is too scared, this life is what she knows, and it offers a weird kind of security knowing the worst is with you, which means you can manage it, without trying a fresh Hell elsewhere.

Remember these women see things in religious terms, so in a depressing way they believe they deserve whatever ill-treatment landed on them thanks to an utter lack of self-esteem their abuser has turned on them. Though the plot was fairly straightforward in its grim little manner, the details remained consistently compelling, from Selah's first menstrual cycle signalling she is unclean (which is in The Bible, should you care to look it up) yet also that she is ready for rape from the Shepherd, to the sudden bursts of her enforced psychosis which may be blips in her consciousness, but may also be flashbacks or flashforwards to how she sees the world. Filmed in some striking Irish landscapes, The Other Lamb may have erred on the slightly too basic, and familiar for that matter, but it stood out thanks to the unforgiving script (which concludes on a neat, sick joke) and the director's ability to capture an evocative visual throughout. And every generation needs to be warned well away from the fanatics. Music by Rafael Leloup and Pawel Mykietyn.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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