mother! disguised its environmental subtext in a house party that gets seriously and murderously out of control, and earlier in 2018 directeur terrible Gaspar Noé portrayed a dance troupe collectively leaving their gourd in his typically over the top Climax.
Nothing stronger than cheap wine and birthday cake fuels the social breakdown in Amanda Kramer's debut feature Ladyworld, but the effects are equally anarchic and gruelling.
Ladyworld takes place within an apartment in the aftermath of an earthquake. A group of young girls, who are there to celebrate their friend Eden's birthday (the apartment belongs to Eden's parents who, like most adults in this movie, are nowhere to be seen), gradually emerge from various rooms to take stock of the chaos around them. The 'quake has apparently sealed them in, leaving the group trapped and with few resources to survive, apart from what's left of the party food and drink.
As supplies (and the charges from their mobiles) run out, the panicking girls form into two separate gangs, headed up respectively by waspish bullying Piper (Annalise Basso) and more level headed but equally ineffective Olivia (Ariela Barer); each is desperate to impose their will on the others - albeit in different ways - and exercise their right to occupy the apartment. As tensions escalate, the veneer of respectability falls away and the girls' more primal urges come to the surface.
Kramer's first film back in 2016, a short called Bark, was in some respects a dry run for the extraordinary Ladyworld, where an argument between two girls escalates into something a lot more physical. Kramer's first feature was shot in 12 days and, with its slender storyline and shifting moods, is best approached as an allegorical look at societal norms and the roles we expect young women to inhabit; albeit a very unsettling one.
In the Q&A accompanying the film's screening (at the London Film Festival) Kramer recognised that few movies depicted women - particularly young women - being ruthless and nasty, and that to some extent Ladyworld was a reaction to how girls are more often cinematically depicted as positive role models. This enables her to have some fun with our expectations of some of these conventions. For example the girls collectively use makeup literally as warpaint, at one point even eating lipstick, a scene which functions not only as a highlight of their animalistic states but also as a comment on commodification. But any playfulness quickly gives way to a more threatening and potentially violent atmosphere; a cupboard in the flat may house the body of a man who some of the girls maintain has been stalking them; or does it house Eden, who made a hasty exit when things started turning nasty? The audience gradually finds itself lost as to who, if any, of the cast they can sympathise with and relate to, building to the final scenes of feral abandon which become a cacophony of voices (courtesy of the cast and a riveting discordant soundtrack by Callie Ryan) and flailing limbs.
The most obvious reference point for the film is Lord of the Flies (early on in Ladyworld a crystal is used to maintain order, much as the conch is deployed in the earlier film) but I was also reminded of Jane Arden's 1972 movie The Other Side of the Underneath whose female cast undergo excruciating on screen primal scream therapy. What these influences have in common is strong ensemble playing, and it's Ladyworld's unwillingness to have a star at its acting centre that is a significant part of its appeal. I tend to write this a lot in my reviews, but Ladyworld isn't for everyone. Although scripted it feels very devised and conceptual in nature, and it takes a while to build to its tour-de-force ending. But it's bold, free (but also very constricting) and genuinely experimental, even if that approach is at the expense of narrative or detailed storytelling.