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Fantastic Fest 2018: “Ladyworld” Review

Film, as a medium, is a funny thing. Many would argue that it goes strictly to storytelling. However, I would say that film has the ability to go beyond the narrative and into performance art. Some films are felt more than they are understood. That is definitely how I feel about Amanda Kramer’s “Ladyworld.”

“Ladyworld” is the first feature release of writer and director Amanda Kramer. The film boasts an impressive cast, featuring Ariela Barer (Marvel’s “Runaways”), Annalise Basso, Ryan Simpkins, Odessa Adlon, Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke), Tatsumi Romano, Zora Casabere, and Atheena Frizzell.

In “Ladyworld” a birthday party quickly devolves into chaos when a mysterious earthquake traps eight teenage girls alone in a house – no idea of what is going on and no apparent rescue on the way. Paranoia and manipulation warp their grip on reality and friendships and identities are tested.

To put it briefly, I would describe “Ladyworld” as “Lord of the Flies” meets batshit insanity. You’ve got isolation. You’ve got the god-like presence of fear embodied just beyond reality’s reach. Is it there? Is it a figment? Friendship crumbles before survival and young girls expose themselves as capable of incredible cruelty.

The film thrives on varying levels of discomfort. As an audience member, you’re made the voyeur in the most uncomfortable sense of the word. This vein of discomfort runs through the entire piece and slowly gets turned up in each scene. You feel that what you are seeing is wrong. You feel wrong for watching. You see the wrongdoings of the players and feel uncomfortable in the position of the complacent witness. “Ladyworld” is a taxing mental exercise as much as it is a film.

Photo by Noel David Taylor

“Ladyworld” is a technically impressive piece built on long, theatrical shots. The architecture of the scenes is striking and there’s this gritty texture that makes you feel like you can reach out and feel the rawness of the film. The soundscape of “Ladyworld” is especially notable. It’s truly unique and absolutely makes the movie. Additionally, another element that stays with me is the great use of makeup. It’s just a really good-looking movie. Grotesquely beautiful. Well done.

Above all, “Ladyworld” is an actor’s movie. You know I love a good actor’s movie. This film is all about the ensemble. The film is all about raw human emotion and the most stripped down view of human interactions. There’s a markedly theatrical element to it. “Ladyworld” reads like a work from Dante or a classical Greek drama. These women are both the tragic heroines and the traditional Greek chorus. The performances of these young women are the blood and bone of “Ladyworld” and they are doing a phenomenal job. Ariela Barer and Maya Hawke were particular standouts, among an extremely strong ensemble.

There’s a lot going on in “Ladyworld,” from a storytelling perspective. This film has a lot to say. It feels like a purgatory. It feels like an acknowledgment of how womanhood can be as grotesque and twisted as it is natural and lovely. It’s a microcosm of female relationships and the distant but ever-present influence of patriarchy. It is both a coming of age story and the nail in the coffin.

My verdict? “Ladyworld” is a discussion. See it but be prepared to think.

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