Setting the right tone is important for horror movies. The wrong atmosphere can ruin even the scariest film. (A Friday the 13th movie should never try to be funny.) Few movies of any genre do as good a job of setting a feel for its story than director Amanda Kramer’s Ladyworld. But can the story live up to the discomfort the movie provides?
Ladyworld can be considered a female take on Lord of the Flies. Eight girls are trapped alone in a house. Food and water are scarce and they are forced to fend for themselves. What started off as a fun birthday party becomes an deeper exploration into the human psyche. With no supervision and seemingly no hope for rescue the eight must learn to work together to survive.
As soon as the film starts, it begins preparing the audience for what they are about to see. Instead of traditional credits, Ladyworld lists its cast and crew in a sort of news ticker format in the bottom left of a black screen. (This is also done at the end of the movie.) It comes off as slightly pretentious, but it also serves a purpose. With the credits out of the way, audiences are able to focus on the movie itself.
At first, there is nothing to look at. Instead, Ladyworld starts with a black screen. What captures the attention of anyone watching are the background noises. There is a loud rumbling sound. At the same time, the audience hears women crying and screaming. Literally nothing has been shown and the film has already successfully set an unsettling tone.
This excellent use of sound continues throughout the movie. There is rarely a moment when Ladyworld is silent. The house is constantly rumbling and seems like it can fall down on the party at any time. Sometimes, the whispers and breathing of the girls from another room can be heard. Once Piper (Annalise Basso) tells the group about a man in the house who is stalking them, the soundtrack will include occasional male grumblings. Kramer is clearly trying to disorient her audience with sound.
The ambiguity of Ladyworld is also jarring. Knowing what has happened provides audiences with a slight feeling of safety. If we know what has happened from there we can piece together the why. Even the most fantastic situations are comforting when an explanation can be offered. In Ladyworld, all we know for sure the girls are trapped in a large house. Was it an earthquake? The end of the world? Who is the man? It is hard to get a grasp on what has happened and why.
In the grand scheme of things, the what and why does not really matter. Kramer wants to examine what would happen if eight girls were trapped. Ladyworld is scary and almost expected look at what can happen. At first, things start off normally. There is talk of things being run as a democracy and even a vote to decide who should lead. When there is little water and only birthday cake to eat, things get a little tense as the days pass. Everything goes overboard after Piper claims to see the man.
The group becomes less democratic. Some of the girls begin wearing makeup in exaggerated war paint like fashion. The idea of a democratic group is forgotten as one of the trapped party goers even says there is no need for a leader when everyone has weapons. There is ritualistic dancing and the members of the anarchic splinter group even take to chanting. The fear and desperation in both sets of girls is palatable.
The camerawork also adds to the unnerving feel. Instead of using cuts, Kramer will sometimes have the camera move from one room to the next. It is a nice touch that shows the audience just how tightly packed the girls are. Even better are the shots at the dining room. The camera faces a table the girls are sitting at when they have house meetings. It takes on a macabre Last Supper feel. Things become even more claustrophobic when some of the girls begin sitting on the table. The camera does a great job of conveying the story’s complete lack of space.
Since Ladyworld is such a character driven story, it moves at a slow pace. This is not much of a problem since the story is engaging and the movie has some strong performances. The strong acting also highlights how unnecessarily large the cast is. There are three ladies that drive the film. Other than that, there is maybe two characters audiences will care about. The larger cast shows how quickly widespread panic can progress, but is not really needed in the context of this story. A focus on five people would have made for a stronger picture.
A good psychological horror film makes its audience feel more uneasy than frightened. Ladyworld does a great job of keeping anyone watching in a constant state of unease. The cramped setting and strong writing draw the audience in while simultaneously making them want to look away. Some of the characters seem superfluous but overall Ladyworld is very riveting.