Starring Ariela Barer, Annalise Basso, Maya Hawke
Written by Amanda Kramer, Benjamin Shearn
Directed by Amanda Kramer
While viewing LADYWORLD, I was consistently reminded of a particular quote from Oscar Wilde. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” In LADYWORLD’s case, the chosen author William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES as its template but, unfortunately, doesn’t bother to contribute anything of value to the conversation beyond a bland re-skinning. The boys have been swapped for girls, the island to a house, the beast to a man, the conch for a crystal, Piggy’s glasses for a girl’s doll. . . It’s a beat for beat retread even down to its eye-roller of a climax. Unlike LOTF however, what LADYWORLD completely lacks is any sense of urgency. The aforementioned novel (and cinematic adaptations for that matter) offered progression and reason as to the boys’ mental and physical breakdown; the hierarchy that develops and, ultimately, the violence caused by such political divides. LADYWORLD, on the other hand, obsesses over kitschy style rather than story, structure and characterization.
Coming off like the ostentatious spawn of #HORROR and BRAID, Amanda Kramer’s LADYWORLD continues the female-led sub-genre of content-lite arthouse horror wherein frenemies are contained to a single location and characters suffer strange behavioral shifts that are (somewhat) grounded in the current zeitgeist. Kramer’s vision involves a group of girls stuck in a house during an unexplained disaster. The girls make no attempt to leave and, after arguing, choose sides for no real attributable reason other than it happened in Lord of the Flies. They agree that one can only hold the floor when bearing the crystal. From here, the meatless narrative slogs from one purposefully blocked scene to another with several of the girls occasionally uttering cryptic rhetoric beyond their years until the movie demands some sort of action transpire in order to move the vestiges of a plot farther (cue one of the important scenes from LOTF). By the very end, things eventually go as one would expect, but the finale is much like everything that preceded it: bare minimum (and incredibly tame at that).
It becomes nigh impossible to judge LADYWORLD on its own terms because Kramer and writer Benjamin Shearn chose to adhere so closely to Golding’s work with nary an application of ingenuity from themselves beyond a gender swap. If one is going replicate a classic work’s plot points, it’s imperative some sort of justification be applied as well. The general excuse for LADYWORLD’s actionable moments seems to be “Well, it happened in LORD OF THE FLIES, so. . .” But the question that seems to have escaped production was “Okay, but WHY is it happening in YOUR story?” The idea of humanity reducing itself to the most basic of instincts (especially in cinema) is nothing original at this point, but that doesn’t mean storytellers have to simply imitate the standard. Well-established premises can always be presented in a new light. LADYWORLD feels well-worn even before the girls’ antics begin to devolve.
The film comes off less a coherent narrative and more like an experimental photoshoot. Each scene is forcibly blocked with each actress staged in the foreground/background, oftentimes motionless. It feels so staged and unrealistic that it robs much of the occurrences of any solemnity. Nothing herein is treated with sincerity but instead, farcical. During one scene, a girl seriously (and randomly) injures her ankle. She wails in pain while the perfectly positioned girls around her yield no response, let alone care to look at her. The shot lingers far too long before jumping to the next scene like nothing happened. It’s at this early point that LADYWORLD establishes its indifferent tone of surrealist disbelief. Everything is so purposefully unrealistic, the characters so purposefully robotic and one-dimensional, their tomfoolery so purposefully removed from reality—that it robs viewership of empathy/sympathy. The only element that is approached seriously is again—the specific propping of each character within a shot.
There’s an interesting dynamic that LADYWORLD hints at (but doesn’t deliver on) regarding how males and females might adapt to similar circumstances, but it’s handled so poorly that it feels as though Kramer and Shearn stumbled upon such an important talking point by accident. LADYWORLD’s depiction of young women under duress is that of (obviously) more emotional reactions rather than the primal and violent tendencies associated with males. Where the villainous boys of LOTF utilize direct physical violence to gain control, the young ladies of LADYWORLD resort to emotional cruelty, manipulation and even some aberrant sexuality amongst themselves (ritualistic groping/fondling).
I will say that if there’s one thing LADYWORLD did right, it’s that the music score is appropriately grating in an uneasy, make-it-stop kinda way. If this was the sort of music tracking through each girl’s head ad nauseam, I might be able to better understand their descent into insanity a wee bit better.