directed by Amanda Kramer
starring Maya Hawke, Annalise Basso, Ryan Simpkins
Amanda Kramer’s new feature Ladyworld is an unflinching look into the psyche of teen girls stripped bare of the warm glow of nostalgia or the comforting aspirations in the tropes of coming of age movies. The title Ladyworld is described in the film in the form of a drawing in the house that shows a woman who is pretty from the front, but her back is covered in pus and maggots. On surface, the film could be seen as a femme Lord of the Flies, where William Golding’s book was interested in the macro idea of the boys attempting to create government, Kramer goes for the micro as the girls in Ladyworld look for personal power in maintaining the social pecking order which divides them into a lockstep clique of pretty girls and a loose confederation of girls bonded only by their exclusion from the clique.
Eight teenage girls are trapped in a house after an assumed earthquake. The doors and windows are blocked by earth and there is no water or power. The mismatched group have been brought together for a birthday party before the disaster. They attempt to organize themselves to find a way out, but when that fails they fall back on what they know and go through the motions of a slumber party. They pass time with birthday cakes, soda, and all manner of odd, secret, girls sleep-over shenanigans. The boredom becomes hysteria and slides into the surreal when birthday girl Eden vanishes and the girls come to believe they may or may not be alone in the house, that there may in fact be a man in the house. Soon the pretty girls have united while vying for the attention of Piper (Annalise Basso, Ouija: Origin of Evil) while the misfits look to the soft spoken Olivia (Ariela Barer, Marvel’s Runaways) for guidance and Romy (Maya Hawke, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) doesn’t think there needs to be any leadership at all and everyone should just relax and await the inevitable rescue. Piper’s faction declare themselves women (the others are children) and become a unified force. They all adopt the same makeup/warpaint and the hive mind of the collective proves more powerful than the individual as they use the unique vulnerabilities of the other girls against them. There is minimal violence, but Piper’s faction divides and conquers with shocking psychological cruelty and expert precision, prompting Olivia to exclaim “They wouldn’t be acting like this if their parents were here”. It really is the truest line in the film as the cruelty Piper and company unleash on Oliva, Romy, and Dolly (Ryan Simpkins, Brigsby Bear) is truly just being mean for mean’s sake. In the end when divine light is shown on the girls, shame is the emotion of the moment in a stinging coda.
Ladyworld is a stark and claustrophobic film with theatrical performances and blocking that mixed with the nebulous how and the why of the whole affair is certain alienate some viewers. The confinement feels more metaphorical than absolute. I mean they don’t even attempt to open the windows and the appearances of “the man” and the cat as well as what happened to the birthday girl, Eden are never explained and really seems beside the point as Ladyworld is much more interested in looking at the psyches of teenage girls when they are left alone to explore their worst impulses. The cast is outstanding with Annalise Basso as Piper, perfectly portraying all the petty meanness lurking behind a pretty face and Ryan Simpkins as Dolly, an exasperating, neurotic mess who sidesteps parody and somehow manages to keep both Olivia and the audience on her side. Ladyworld is a purposely divisive film that will assuredly divide audiences. It may raise questions, cause arguments, or even stir unpleasant memories, but it will not be easily forgotten.