SXSW Review: ‘Lamb’ is a haunting look at two broken people in a questionable relationship

Alex Pelham

The key to understanding “Lamb” is to realize it’s a film based on perceptions. Some will look at it as a story about unorthodox friendships and two people trying to make sense of their broken world together. Others will flinch in disgust as they see a lonely man with ulterior motives begin an inappropriate relationship with a defenseless, young girl. The discomforting premise makes audiences think about unusual bonds, and the brilliant performances from the lead actors make the audiences question their own convictions about love.

David Lamb (Ross Partridge) is a 40-something who finds his world crumbling after his father dies and his marriage disintegrates. All that changes when he meets Tommie (Oona Laurence), an 11-year-old loner whose family ignores her. The two begin a friendship, and David finds himself fascinated by the child. He proposes a radical idea: They take a short vacation to a cabin that’s a state away. Tommie agrees, and the two start a journey that makes them question their odd relationship and wonder whether David’s intentions for the girl are completely pure.

One important note that audiences should take heed is that no sexual relationship ever develops. Partridge, who also directs, never goes full “Lolita.” Nevertheless, the eeriness surrounding their relationship is a central theme. The uncomfortableness stems from the notion that something inappropriate could happen. After all, David and Tommie’s friendship is clouded with many red flags that would concern anyone.

Alhough the relationship never turns sexually immoral, the film has an air of supsense about what David's intentions with the young Tommie. Partridge forces the audience to guess David’s motivation and whether he performs this “voluntary kidnapping” for his sake or the girl’s. The main question is whether Tommie becomes collateral in David’s quest to become a new person. In this context, the possible reason for David’s obsession with the girl can be seen with the same evil and viciousness associated with any other “inappropriate," self-serving behavior.

Partridge’s performance as a lonely man keen to find beauty in what he feels is a difficult world is remarkable. He perfectly captures the creepiness of the character. Every interaction with Tommie could easily be read as a double-entendre or a hint at more sinister desires.  Despite his character’s questionable actions, he manages to remain incredibly sympathetic. No matter how uneasy his bond with Tommie is, he can convince the doubtful that there still may be a sliver of a possibility that he is innocent and misunderstood.

Laurence steals the film with her performance as a precocious yet confused young girl . Her character feels so mature for a child her age but she also portrays the vulnerability that every kid suffers from. She’s the perfect type of the “kid character,” an archetype that viewers often dread. She isn’t annoyingly precious or completely helpless. She’s just an observant young girl who finds herself in a turbulent situation.

“Lamb” paints a haunting tale about two people who simply don’t know what their relatioship is or means. The ambiguity of the story creates two different interpretations of this tale of love. The performances are flawless portrayals of hurt, hope and fear. The film rattles conceptions of childlike innocence and tells a divisive tale that is either oddly charming or donwright unsettling.

Rating: 9/10 Rundown Cabins