Fantastic Fest 2018: Ladyworld

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Eight teenage girls at a birthday party become trapped without adult supervision after an earth-shaking disaster outside. As supplies dwindle and nerves fray, the girls fall into the worst of society’s patterns.

Some bond and some break, all while they deal with their new, limited world… and the possibility of a male intruder. Working from her script co-written with Benjamin Shearn, director Amanda Kramer leads her troupe of actresses through a symbolic exploration of women’s roles, the value of societal archetypes and systems, and the damage we can do to one another.

The movie is far less concerned with the reality of a disaster, or any plausible escape plan for the girls. The lack of concern about a realistic disaster narrative threatened to take me out of the narrative early on, as I got increasingly frustrated at what I felt was the girls’ lack of effort toward their escape. I desperately wanted the girls to realize the windows open inward, or try stacking more furniture to reach a skylight. Something, anything more to escape their predicament.

Instead, they cave to pettiness and boredom almost immediately, almost immediately breaking all their own rationing rules for unfocused and petty sniping. An early warning about not needing a leader goes unheeded until it’s far too late, and by the time we leave the girls, each character is hurt from their time together. No one fares particularly well as a survivalist, here.

The film works best when considered as a performance piece about our need for roles in society and the damage we do imposing those roles on others. The actresses give a heightened, melodramatic emotion to everything, which mirrors perfectly the maddening and exceptional score and sound design. Giulio Carmassi, Scott Casillas, and Bryan Scary give Ladyworld the most discomforting soundtrack I’ve ever experienced. It brings you fully into the world of the film, even as logic sometimes breaks the narrative. The sounds range from what I imagine was skin-on-leather, to a variety of mouth noises, to shrieking strings. Everything was done in order to match the sounds in the theater to the emotional and mental states of the actresses onscreen. Though effective, it was not fun. As they went mad, so did the space around me. It was terrible and immersive, and flawlessly matched to a movie that appears purposefully uncomfortable.

While there are several scenes I thought about days after, I would not say I liked Ladyworld. I also believe Amanda Kramer was completely unconcerned with the film having ‘likeability’. Whatever you think of it, Kramer’s vision for the project surrounds you for the full runtime. There is nowhere else to look, nothing happening that doesn’t feel a part of this movie. Uncomfortable, stylish, brash and symbolic, Ladyworld doesn’t need you to love it.

 

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Les Weiler enjoys television to a stunning degree, along with various movies of questionable cultural value. His 90s college education left him woefully unprepared for the real job of the future: curating a profitable social media presence. The last video game he played well was Goldeneye. He can be heard on The TV Dudes podcast, The Good Die Young podcast, and elsewhere.