By Deborah Young / The Hollywood Reporter



THE BOTTOM LINE - Hitting a sweet

spot between 'The Handmaid´s Tale' and cult horror.


The blind faith of a teenager begins to waver in Malgorzata

Szumowska´s visionary tale about an all-female religious sect.


In The Other Lamb, the first English language picture from

award-winning Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, an all-female religious

cult lives off the land with their daughters in the happy harem of a Jesus-like

leader. Entrusting their bodies, souls and very lives to the handsome,

long-haired Shepherd, they are content to follow the strict rules he lays down,

however implausible they may be. But there are doubters in the flock.



Starring bold young English actress Raffey Cassidy as the trusting Selah,

on the cusp of womanhood, and the romantic Dutch actor Michiel Huisman as

Shepherd, this Ireland-Belgium co-production from Trust Nordisk has a different

kind of potential compared to the director´s previous work. For one thing, it

premiered in Toronto as a Special Presentation, breaking the chain of wins

Szumowska has had in her Berlin bows. (In the Name Of took

home the Teddy Award in 2013, Body won the

best director nod and last year´s Mug got the

jury grand prix.) While still a festival film, The Other

Lamb is probably her most accessible work, and not just because

it was shot in English. It can count on the perennial appeal of religious cults

(Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the most recent

example), while its theme of oppressed women who rebel against male

exploitation is of the minute.



Catherine S. McMullen´s screenplay is set in a timeless forest cloaked in

mist where the characters have no contact with the modern world. This

fairy-tale setting is heightened by Michal Englert´s mystical cinematography

and the women´s ancient faces, dress and hairstyles.



Two blond girls with tightly braided hair and long blue dresses sport in

the woods like nymphs as they watch over a small flock of sheep. They

themselves are like sheep, belonging to a group called the Flock under the unquestioned

authority of the sole male, Shepherd (the commanding Huisman). Some eight older

women, all dressed in modest red homespun dresses, are the Wives; another eight

in identical blue dresses are the Daughters. We see them at their communal

evening meal, presided over by the hypnotic Shepherd. At the end, he walks

behind the Wives, his hand hovering over their necks, until he selects one for

his bed that night. “Do you accept my grace?” he asks her and she, knowing the

formula, meekly replies, “I do, Shepherd.”



In another collective scene, all the women wear spotless white robes and

stand within a sacred space in the forest, while they listen to Shepherd

preaching about how he gave them shelter, sisterhood and life when they came to

him hurt and broken and impure. Then he smears their cheeks with the blood of a

slaughtered lamb. The women are completely into him and scream in joyful

hysteria. In spirit, this may be closer to the masculine fantasy of

Fellini´s 8½ than to a devil cult, but

its perversity turns the stomach.


Selah (Cassidy) stands out from the group of Daughters for her wild-eyed

beauty and early signs of rebellion. Her mother is not in the group, having

died giving birth to her, and she plies the older Sarah (Denise Gough) with

questions about her parent. Sarah is the pariah of the sisterhood, forced to

live in a separate hut and completely ignored by Shepherd. “There´s only one

ram in the flock, child,” she informs Selah. Gough´s edgy anger and

disillusionment give Sarah the closest thing to a normal reaction.  



The rest of the women live in a delusional world they seem powerless to

escape. The older wives, past child-bearing age, feel resentful that Shepherd

no longer chooses them for his “grace,” while the younger ones preen. And

Shepherd has his eyes on Selah. Although she is his own daughter, he lets her

watch him while the women wash his body and while he beds them. It seems

inevitable that she will soon become one of the Wives.



The spell is broken, or at least interrupted, when a police car appears at

their camp and orders Shepherd to move on. The final sequences describe their

long march on foot over hill and dale in search of a new promised land. The

hardships of the journey not only test their faith, but bring out Shepherd´s

true colors, which are far from heavenly. In one chilling moment, they trudges

close to a road and Selah sees a girl who looks very much like herself riding

by in a car, wearing a varsity jacket. A normal schoolgirl - who might have

been herself.



Malgorzata´s command of her medium makes the film a pleasure to watch, from

Englert´s stylized cinematography that creates a faux-medieval atmosphere, to

Pawel Mykietyn and Rafael Leloup´s majestic musical accompaniment, that leaves

room for an unexpected pop song played loud.





companies: Rumble Films, Subotica Productions in association with Zentropa

Cast: Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, Denise Gough, Kelly Campbell, Eve

Connolly, Isabelle Connolly, Ailbhe Cowley, Charlotte Moore, Juliette Crosbie

Director: Malgorzata Szumowska

Screenwriter: Catherine S. McMullen

Producers: Stephanie Wilcox, David Lancaster, Aoife O´Sullivan,

Tristan Orpen Lynch, Marie Gade Denesson

Director of photography: Michal Englert

Production designer: Ferdia Murphy

Editor: Jaroslaw Kaminski

Music: Pawel Mykietyn, Rafael Leloup

Casting director: Amy Rowan

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation)

World sales: TrustNordisk


97 minutes