Seth Rogen’s This Is the End imagined the apocalypse as an out-of-hand fratboy party, and now Amanda Kramer’s sophomore feature does something comparable for an all-female cast. Her end-times sleepover takes considerably more risks, trapping its eight teenagers inside an underground apartment following an earthquake and letting things snowball into full art-house blowout.
Olivia (Ariela Barer) emerges as an early candidate for group leader, encouraging early efforts to break out from the bunker. But really, Ladyworld has little interest in conventional thriller dynamics and shrugs off almost all context and explanation as Piper (a vehement Annalise Basso) starts to challenge Olivia for supremacy. Revelling in their predicament, Piper starts to terrorise the girls by suggesting she has seen a man hiding in the apartment, waiting to rape them.
Is it a comment on how society is constructed in relation to male violence? Or how a female-led society could fatally imitate the current one? Kramer simply allows such thoughts to percolate through the girls’ cabin fever. Piper’s gang (which also includes Maya Hawke) daub themselves Pagliacci-style and mock anything constructive as Olivia fights to find any bearings on the collective moral compass. The sound design is intentionally over-sensitised, the soundtrack full of peculiar breathy exhalations; and Kramer ably allows the mood to degenerate from an icy sensuousness to something ritualistic and intoxicated, one scene blurring into another.
Sometimes Ladyworld gets a little too ungrounded and silly. Too many scenes of sub-vaudeville witchy cavorting suggest Kramer hasn’t completely mastered her own poetic register. But it is bracing to watch her reach for the stylised impact needed to carry her ideas about social identity; exactly the kind of the expressive messiness this wing of the post-#MeToo film industry should be engaging in if the old order isn’t going to reimpose itself.
• Ladyworld is released in the UK on 18 October.
Source: The Guardian