Once in a while there will be a film I come across that defies explanation and makes me wonder just what was the director and writer thinking about when he or they decided that making a movie so unsettling and queasy would be a good thing. A prime example is The Human Centipede (and whose sequels I will not watch; I have better things to do than to sit down and endure that kind of debasement). That story everyone knows, and while on the plus side it’s not a badly made movie — at a visual level there are sequences of great dread and beauty, often in the same frame — it’s what the energy coming through from that is attempting to communicate to me. Not that I have an issue with horror movies going that extra mile, but . . . well, if you haven’t seen it, you need to, and then go outside and take a fresh breath of air.
Lamb came out early this year and played in one theatre, one week (maybe two), and I missed it. I wanted to go see it but something held me back. Shortly thereafter it made its way to VOD while traveling across select theatres across the nation, and I didn’t do as much as add it to my queue for later viewing. It sat there and sat there and sat there. And then it finally made its way to the top of my Netflix once it got released proper, and even then, a month on top of my player, untouched. Waiting. Always as I was about to see it and decide if it was good, bad, or meh, another more interesting film came across and demanded attention. A lame excuse it was, but it kept me from it.
Reader, I don’t know what to tell you. Based on the Bonnie Nadzam novel of the same name, Lamb tells you the story of two people of completely different walks of life who have a chance encounter, although a creeping notion that chance is up to question continues to attempt to high-jack my thoughts and present to me some subtext.
You see, the two people in question are a 47 year old man (in the book he’s in his 50s) and a young girl of about 11 whom he spots at a public spot trying to ask him for a light for a cigarette.
Now, let’s do a quick back to the beginning of the story before I get into the real story that transpires in the movie. David Lamb (Ross Partridge) has experienced two losses — his father who livedin filth and died alone, and his wife to divorce. He seems to have caused some situation at work and has a rather casual, sordid of sorts affair with a female colleague (Jess Wexler). The story finds David meeting this young girl sporting the tomboy name of Tommie and thus the cigarette scene plays out, followed by a fake abduction where he sternly lectures her that he could have been a bad guy and done some harm, even murder her. She seems to be not that much fazed by the situation, and when she returns home, her parents (Scoot McNairy and Lindsey Pulsipher) don’t as much as acknowledge her presence.
David and Tommie have another encounter where he informs her he’s going for a trip someplace for a while. Why, we don’t know. Tommie tags along and here is where my creep-o-meter began climbing because I’m thinking, “Okay, this could very well go to a very icky place I’m not prepared or willing to see, and I hope it doesn’t.” As of this moment the movie is competently made (and at least it remained to be), but that’s not the point. Lamb and Tommie venture into open country playing the parts of Gary and his niece Emily while all the while engaging in conversations that seem to be of self-discovery but also go into some subtle manipulation on the part of the older David, who while telling Tommie she’s free to go back any time she wishes, pretty much is implying he’d rather she stay, to which she does.
Now, Tommie is no innocent by any means — she already acts well above her age and has a reply for everything. Oona Laurence as Tommie gives her character a sense of preternatural depth that kept reminding me of Tatum O’Neal. She’s a perfect foil to Ross Partridge’s talky but withholding character. It’s when he continues to repeat that their relation is secret, that he could go to jail because technically what he’s done is illegal. Then the arrival of a third party takes the story into a slightly darker level just shy of ick (especially when it involves a scene where Tommie is watching David from the outside of the house they’ve rented) where my fears of what’s not being said, what’s being kept out of frame really start to materialize.
Is David trying to test his own limits by using a young girl as bait? What can he gain by taking Tommie under his wing and lecturing her constantiy when in reality whatever bond they form — and they do form one — has no future? He seems to be a man on the edge of an abyss, staring at a world without hope, mired in self-temptation that exists just out of mind, but all over the picture. Tommie winds up being cheated, doubly, by an adult who presents himself as a friend and is left hanging.
In a nutshell, there are better ways to where an adult can mentor a child but this is a story that is too problematic for anyone to sit and watch without cringing or grabbing their stomach at the anticipation of what might happen. If there is something artistic to be said, long shots of scenery and a talky plot is not what I’d consider art. Maybe I didn’t get the message; maybe there is something else that’s in the fabric of this story, and while yes, there was a time when Lolita, a more sexually active story also involving an older man and a young girl (albeit a teen), was considered a controversial classic, I doubt Lamb ever will.