I’m not entirely sure what to say about Ladyworld. A weird, unsettling exploration of madness, division and gender roles, it plays in part like David Lynch and in part like something you’d expect from the mind of Stephen King. Pitched as an all-female retelling of Lord of the Flies, it struggles to find anything new to do with the material beyond its gender-swapping premise, and winds up descending into art-house type sequences and pure style over substance in an effort to maintain the runtime.
Truthfully, I thought I was going to enjoy it a lot more. But it seems far more interested in appearing like it is saying something than it is interested in actually saying something. Watching it became sort of like an endurance test, and in that aspect I related to the characters deeply, as they struggle with the never-ending birthday part they find themselves trapped in, shut off from the outside world after some kind of unexplained catastrophe, their frustrations and paranoia begin to seep out into their collective group, and sure enough they turn on one another.
It’s a shame, then, that the struggle of having to push through the movie is pretty much the only bit of the movie that felt like it had genuinely captured the struggles of the character. Despite so much time spent on what at first glance seems to be character building, ultimately, I know as little about these characters as I did when it all started.
I don’t know if that was the point or not, but it certainly didn’t feel much like it. In the end it just felt like I’d missed something, and maybe that’s down to me, but I’m not in any particular rush to go back and figure out if I did. That would require watching it again, and… well, man do I not want to do that.
Visually there are interesting choices being made throughout, and I have to say that there were several moments I was at least gripped by the technique on the display. Locked off shots become slow zooms, and tension and discomfort is built in equal measure. While I can’t say that I enjoyed the movie, I also honestly have to admit that I think may that is the intention. It’s a hard watch, not just in the tedium of it all, but in moments of genuine unsettling atmosphere as well. Plenty of it seems to be deliberate as well; never ending chants and constant toying with the soundscape all add together to a very uncomfortable viewing experience.
Stylistically all of this is cool. I’ll give credit where credit is due, it’s an interesting film from a stylistic standpoint. The aforementioned sound design, as well as several interesting shot compositions make this at least bearable on that front. And the cast are all pretty good, despite having very little to work with in the way of character.
Undoubtedly this one is probably destined to be as divisive as it is debatable. I may not have been able to get much from up, but I have no issues imagining that there are people out there who will. What it is, for me at least, more than anything else, is a fascinating experiment that runs out of steam before it can get anywhere meaningful. The final scenes seem to promise something deeper than what it actually manages to muster, and that winds up being, in the end, frustrating more than intriguing.
It’s muddled and uncertain and struggles to make the premise last long enough to justify the relatively short runtime. What it does do, however, is succeed in creating atmosphere and discomfort, thanks to some interesting creative choices, some exceptional sound work, some great costumes, bold make-up choices and a decent cast.
The DVD itself is underwhelming, perhaps a little like the film, offering up a pretty disappointing array of extras. There’s the theatrical trailer, which at this point should be a given, a teaser – which is basically just another trailer, and an image slideshow that had me wishing there was some sort of behind the scenes documentary or filmmakers commentary. As a filmmaker myself, I’m always eager to hear from those behind the scenes, and the fact that the film had me so baffled and frustrated meant that something delving into the process of making this would have been brilliantly insightful.
What a shame then, that much like the film itself, Ladyworld the DVD winds up looking great, and promising intrigue, but ultimately stumbling along and failing to give me anything that might help me delve a little deeper into this world.
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