Cannes Film Fest 2021: Lamb, Icelandic Horror Film, Starring Noomi Rapace

In Lamb, a supernatural folktale from first-time director Valdimar Jóhannsson, Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason star as a childless couple discovering a mysterious newborn

A24 picked up the rights for the film’s release in the U.S. ahead of its Cannes Festival premiere.

Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason star as a childless couple discovering a mysterious newborn in this supernatural folktale from first-time director Valdimar Jóhannsson.

It was four in the morning when actor Noomi Rapace got called to stick her arm up a sheep.

“They woke me up and said ‘it’s happening! The baby’s coming!’,” Rapace recalls. “I put my hands up the mama sheep and pulled out the baby.”

The Swedish actor was catapulted to international stardom playing the role of Lisbeth Salander in the original  2009 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was remade two years later into an English-speaking version by David Fincher with Rooney Mara cast in that role.

Over the past decade or so, Rapace worked in Hollywood extensively. She appeared in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, then starred alongside Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and more recently, teamed with John Krasinski in the Amazon Prime series Jack Ryan.

And now, what seemed to be a step down, by mainstream Hollywood logic, Rapace is the star of a low-budget genre film, shot in rural Iceland, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb, which plays in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of this year’s Cannes Film Fest.

“Valdimar didn’t really pitch me the project. He can’t lie and he’s very shy.  He just came to my house in London, gave me script, a visual book and a book of Icelandic poems,” says Rapace. “But as soon as he left, I called my agent and said: ‘I’m doing this no matter what.’ There was no money in it, but my spirit just told me, you’ve got to do this, it spoke directly to me.”

In Lamb, Rapace teams with Icelandic actor Hilmir Snaer Gudnason (White Night Wedding) as a childless couple, living in a remote farm. One day they discover a mysterious newborn on their land, which they decide to raise as their own.

But as in many dark Nordic folktales, their choice to defy Nature brings chaos and destruction upon them.

“In Iceland, the folktales are nature-driven because that’s what people are afraid of. If you are afraid, you imagine something out there,” says Jóhannsson. “The dark rocks become trolls, the landscape becomes threatening.”

“I knew this kind of story vaguely.  I grew up on a farm in Iceland. I was brought up by living very close to life and death,” says Rapace. “Watching my parents deliver baby lambs and then seeing then at slaughter time killing the lambs and eat the meat. For me it felt like going back to my roots.”

The trailer for Lamb contrasts the natural beauty of rural Iceland with a sense of impending doom.  The movie is genuinely scary, because at any moment, an unseen force in the dark outside might looms closer and closer.

“We use the old folklore way of telling our story, very simply and very clearly,” says Rapace. “And also very Icelandic. People don’t speak a lot here, and there is a calmness even in the most brutal situations. It’s not straight-up horror. It’s more psychologically and internal.”

“For me, this film is about loss and how much this couple is willing to do to try and recapture the happiness they once had before, how much they want to make their life more bearable and enjoyable,” says Jóhannsson.

Making Lamb has also been, for Rapace, a rebirth, both personally and professionally.

She recalls: “I’ve been on this crazy journey. I left Sweden after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I divorced my husband that same year. My life changed dramatically. I came from a lot of trauma and a lot of chaos. Since then I’ve been rebuilding myself. By coming back to Iceland and shooting this movie, I expected my life to come full circle. It was very emotional for me.

It has made me want to reconnect to my roots, to where I come from, and do to more European cinema, to make less Hollywood action and adventure movies and do more internal and personal  dramas.”