Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Movie Review: Ladyworld

Ladyworld *** ½ /*****
Directed by: Amanda Kramer.
Written by: Amanda Kramer and Benjamin Shearn.
Starring: Ariela Barer (Olivia), Annalise Basso (Piper), Ryan Simpkins (Dolly), Odessa Adlon (Blake), Maya Hawke (Romy), Tatsumi Romano (Amanda), Zora Casebere (Mallory), Atheena Frizzell (Eden), Noel David Taylor (The Man).  
Eight teenage girls are gathered for a birthday party at one of their homes when some sort of natural disaster – an earthquake likely – hits, and the girls become trapped in the home, with no power, no way to contact the outside world, and no way out. Co-writer/director Amanda Kramer uses this as the jumping off point for her debut film – which has been described by some as Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies, and while that’s not entirely accurate, it does give you an idea of what is going to happen in the film. The film is about that thin veneer that holds together society, and how quickly that disappears when there is no one around to enforce the rules. And there are definitely genre elements to the film, which grows increasingly disturbing as it moves along. But the film also shares a lot with something like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.
There are eight girls in total – and you kind of have to accept that they would all be at the same party, because logically speaking, they wouldn’t be – they certainly aren’t friends, and are radically different. Even if there are only eight of them – only a few of them will stand out to the audience. There is Dolly (Ryan Simpkins) – so called because although she’s a teenage, she acts like a small child – including carrying doll, who is dressed and made up just like her, everyone she goes. Olivia (Ariela Barer) is the most rational and mature one of the bunch – she is elected leader shortly after the eight find each other – and she tries, in vain, to hold things together. Piper (Annalise Basso) thought she should be the leader, and it isn’t long before she has convinced two other girls – Amanda and Mallory (Tatsumi Romano and Zora Casebere) to essentially become her stooges, and follow her down into the darkness (these two have no personalities of their own at any point – you don’t really even remember their names). Blake (Odessa Adlon) is kind of an independent free spirit – but she fades into the background pretty quickly. Romy (Maya Hawke) is a bit of a wild card – a loner by nature, and an eccentric one at that, you’re never quite sure what she’ll do. Then there is birthday girl Eden (Atheena Frizzell) – the birthday girl – who is around just long enough to tell everyone that she is sure she saw a man stalking around the house, and then mysteriously disappears.
Ladyworld is obviously not meant to be overly realistic – like I said, you never really believe that these eight girls would all be at the same party at the same time, and the film also never really explains why they don’t try harder to get free (dirt covers most of the windows – but not completely – there is a ray of light from the top of them – they really should be able to dig out). But then again, that’s not really the point. The film may resemble a metaphorical theater piece more than anything – but first time director Kramer really does lay on the stylistics. The film is well-shot – but she has put most of her efforts into the sound design – which is creepy in the extreme, and that’s before Piper and her minions begin their chants – which takes the creepiness factor up another level. Kramer does a good job at making the whole thing feel increasingly claustrophobic – as the girls become more and more frayed, the walls seemingly get tighter on them.
It is also a well-acted film – particularly by the four who get real roles to play – Barer as Olivia, who tries her best to maintain her sanity, Piper who has the personality of a cult leader, and knows exactly how to push everyone’s buttons, Hawke as the ever strange Romy- and especially Simpkins as Dolly. Her character isn’t as a simple as a naïve innocent corrupted and destroyed by the harsh real world – that what it is on the surface, but there’s more going on here.
The film all leads to its inevitable climax – but even there, the film doesn’t quite play out the way you expect it to. They will be either be saved – or they won’t – we know that from the start. In the end, it’s still an open question. The film shows a lot of promise for Kramer – who is certainly pushing herself with a limited budget, and finds a style all her own. She also has a way with actors – the tone of the movie is chilly, but the performances are not, and yet it works. It lays everything on just a bit too thick for my taste – but it’s still a bizarre, promising debut film.

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