Naemi Victoria takes a look at Sinéad O’Loughlin’s short film Lamb.
Sinéad O’Loughlin’s short film Lamb (2022) turns “Show, don’t tell” into a suspenseful “Tell, but don’t spell it out.” Its dialogue-driven narrative opens with shots of an idyllic summer day: lush evergreens bathed in sunlight are accompanied by the careless symphony of birdsong. In her rural home, Sarah, played by Aoife Duffin (Moone Boy, Resistance), is looking after her infant daughter in the comfort of their kitchen. If you read the short’s logline, you will know that this glimpse at domestic bliss is suddenly smothered by suffocating tension when a stranger, portrayed by Éanna Hardwicke (Normal People, Lakelands), quietly intrudes. Pivoting on the idea of horror unfolding in broad daylight, Lamb echoes the likes of Midsommar (Aster, 2019) or The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973), but without the gore.
O’Loughlin, who wrote and directed the short, demonstrates a keen sense for weaving subtext into the conversation between Sarah and the intruder. Throughout the short, reading between the lines seems to matter most. It keeps the viewer trapped in a state of suspense, not knowing what happens next. Lamb’s atmosphere is heavy with a looming sense of danger, underlined by close-ups of Duffin’s Sarah whose shaking hands and side glances at her baby go hand in hand with the high-pitched screaming of a kettle. The narrative has you on the edge of your seat as Sarah desperately tries to keep up a calm facade in a situation instantly presented as dangerous for her and her child. Duffin’s magnificent performance is met with equal talent. Hardwicke’s portrayal of the menacing stranger adds to his ever-growing repertoire of playing villainous characters. While the trope of a threatening male presence disrupting domesticity is a common one, Hardwicke lends it a sense of originality by cultivating a feeling of uncanny familiarity rather than conventional blandness.
Lamb highlights how quickly the mundane can turn into something sinister. It follows in the steps of a well-established cinematic tradition of depicting a violent male presence threatening female domesticity. Sarah’s worry, her trembling lips, the fear in her eyes – these are all familiar images we have already seen in numerous thrillers and horror films. The short’s domestic setting made me think of other Irish works, like Kate Dolan’s You Are Not My Mother (2021), partially because their eerie score was composed by the same artist, Die Hexen. Like Lamb, Dolan’s film spotlights a mother-daughter relationship but subverts the notion of the home as a place of safety and nurturing motherhood. Such a twist never occurs in Lamb. The narrative follows a linear path that builds up to a grand finale.
After my third re-watch, I am still sceptical about the ending. Instead of erupting, the carefully crafted tension evaporates. We are shut out, a door slammed in our faces. The final seconds do not quite meet the standard the rest of the film has set. I remember how stunned I was by the conclusion of Dominik Moll’s The Night of the 12th (2022), which was oh so wonderfully frustrating. Maybe Lamb aims to achieve the same by denying us closure. I suppose that is a matter of opinion.
If you would like to judge for yourself, Lamb will have its online debut in February. It first premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2022. Having directed several shorts, O’Loughlin is currently working on her first feature, Vocation, with Copper Alley Productions. I am looking forward to seeing more of her work.