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Fantastic Fest: ‘Ladyworld’ Shows There is Nothing Ladylike about Widespread Panic

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There’s nothing quite like a disaster and the looming presence of the end of the world to reveal who you really are. Are you the leader? Are you the rebel? Maybe you’re the follower? And what if you are the coward? It becomes even more apparent when you are locked in a room with other people with no resources and no way out. Enter Ladyworld, a slow-burning post-apocalyptic thriller that will have you wanting to claw your way out of the claustrophobic chaos. Director Amanda Kramer provides a gynocentric Lord of the Flies scenario after eight teenaged girls are trapped in a house alone in the middle of nowhere following a massive earthquake. It is a daring look into the power of paranoia and fear as well as the deep-seeded brutality within all of us.

Ladyworld movie

Eight girls of various personalities, races, and life experiences come together for a birthday party. After the natural disaster knocks out the power and traps them inside with no way to contact the outside world, some girls immediately panic. The two that reveal themselves to be leaders are the well-meaning Olivia (Ariela Barer) and the predatory Piper (Annalise Basso). Much like Ralph and Jack in Lord of the Flies or Jack and Sawyer in TV’s Lost, there always seems to be one leader who wants to save everyone and one who just craves power. After a few days futilely attempting to preserve battery power in their phones while living off birthday cake, the bleak reality of their situation begins to wear down the girls. It doesn’t help that there is allegedly a strange man lurking in the house planning to commit nefarious deeds against the vulnerable young women. Piper uses the fear surrounding this man to her advantage to personally victimize the childlike Dolly (Ryan Simpkins) and persuade some of the girls to be on her side in the fight for leadership. Inevitably, the house becomes divided into two groups. Some of the girls slowly give in to the anarchic nihilism and cake themselves with clownish make-up, reeking of sweat and desperation, while others try in vain to cling to hope that they will be rescued. Before long, the house becomes a nightmarish carousel of singsongy insanity.

Ladyworld is an unforgettable thriller

Where Ladyworld truly strives is the brilliant sound design and score consisting of eerie female vocals and ambient drones that provide jarring, bombastic discomfort in contrast to the moments of deathly silence. The music and tight cinematography provide a claustrophobic setting along with the slowly animalistic performances of the cast. As the film reached its climax, I found myself letting out a sigh of relief larger than any I had ever exhaled during a film.

Amanda Kramer succeeds in taking a low budget and limited set and providing an uncomfortable atmosphere yet thrilling ride. It is very reflective of the country’s current state of paranoia and fear and how those emotions can get the best of a person and force them to regress to baser instincts. It also takes the ‘mean girls’ concept to dark Darwinian level as some the girls start to prey on the weaker ones. Ladyworld is an unforgettable thriller that will assault your senses and find yourself waiting desperately to exhale.

Fantastic Fest runs September 20 – September 27. Visit the official website for more information.

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Sarah Truesdale is a movie (watching) monster that runs on black coffee, amber ale, and biscuits and gravy. She graduated from University of North Texas in 2014 with a degree in Radio/TV/Film and English and has been a contributing writer for various websites since. She also works as a concert videographer and editor for a music school in Austin, TX.

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Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest: ‘Lords of Chaos’ Raises Hell in the Norwegian Black Metal Scene

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You don’t need to be a metalhead to enjoy this harrowing true story about how one black metal band went too far to prove they weren’t mere posers following the latest musical trend. Inspired by the controversial book Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, director Jonas Akerlund brings to life the legacy of the band Mayhem and its contribution to the Norwegian black metal scene in the early nineties. Beyond its influential music, the band is most notable for its involvement in a series of crimes ranging from arson to murder. With visceral direction and engaging performances, Lords of Chaos blends comedy, tragedy, and a dash of psychological horror to tap into the darkness that fueled the music as well as the music that fueled the darkness in a generation of troubled youths.

The film is narrated by Mayhem founder and guitarist Oystein Aarseth (Rory Culkin) also known as “Euronymous” as he guides the audience through the history of the band, his hatred of what he considers “life metal,” and the search for a new lead singer. He discovers Per “Dead” Ohlin, a melancholic Swede who possesses an unhealthy obsession with death. After Dead’s gruesome suicide, Euronymous views his death as an opportunity to promote the band’s image and authenticity rather than as the tragic loss of a friend. Soon, a wide-eyed admirer who calls himself “Varg” (Emory Cohen) approaches Euronymous, eager to please. Despite Euronymous being initially unimpressed by Varg’s appearance (even criticizing him for have a Scorpions patch on his jacket), he listens to his demo tape and is blown away by the innovative sound. It isn’t long before Varg’s desperate need for approval becomes destructive when he begins displaying disturbing behavior and a hunger for committing crimes. Euronymous’ cultlike “Black Circle” of followers begin to feel that they too have to prove themselves in order to maintain respect in the metal community.

Lords of Chaos Review

Aside from the music history lesson, the true core of the film focuses on the obsession with perception vs. reality when it comes to one’s image. Like any subculture, the metalheads try hard to prove that they aren’t just sell-outs jumping on the bandwagon but also have to realize that they actually are. While Euronymous fronts like he is a morbid servant of Satan, he really is an all-bark-no-bite businessman who is aware of what sells. Throughout the film, it is shown that the Mayhem members all live with their loving parents who financially support their endeavors. It is one of the many instances of privileged kids desperately wanting to find identity, community, and authenticity and going to extreme measures to acquire them.

Lords of Chaos is a headbanger that will make you raise up the devil horns

For a film that focuses on Mayhem’s Norwegian pride and their desire to give Norway a distinct place in the metal scene, it seems odd and distracting to hire American actors and have them keep their American accents. Regardless, Rory Culkin gives a sympathetic, layered performance as Euronymous and Emory Cohen manages to capture the brainwashed darkness beneath his babyfaced innocence.

Whether or not you know the first thing about Norwegian black metal, it won’t get in the way of you appreciating Lords of Chaos. Akerlund successfully depicts the viciousness surrounding Mayhem’s tragic story without being histrionic and manages to maintain a self-deprecating good sense of humor. Lords of Chaos is a headbanger that will make you raise up the devil horns but hopefully not make you want to burn down a church.

Fantastic Fest runs September 20 – September 27. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantastic Fest: ‘Slut in a Good Way’ – A Sexually Liberated Rom-Com

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In a longstanding stereotype of “locker room talk,” here comes a film that proves that women can hold their own in the sexually charged workplace atmosphere. Director Sophie Lorain brings audiences a French-Canadian romantic comedy that touches on the formerly untouchable. Slut in a Good Way is a refreshing take on raunchy romcoms that delves into insightful topics such as slut-shaming, self-respect, and the difference between love, sex, and intimacy.

After discovering that her beloved boyfriend is gay, 17-year old Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard) decides to prove she is not emotionally dependent by taking a part-time job at a toy store with her two best friends and having rebound affairs with the various handsome older boys that work there. It is about a month when she has slept with every male employee at the store except for the charming Guillaume (Alex Godbout), with whom she shares genuine chemistry. After the humiliating revelation that she has slept with all the boys, it becomes a battle of the sexes and a fight against the double standards within the hotbed of promiscuity among the store employees. Her friends share different opinions on the matter with the cynical Megane (Romane Denis) believing that love is for fools and one should only have meaningless encounters, and the more romantic Aube (Rose Adam) having faith in true love and intimacy. Meanwhile, Charlotte struggles with her own ideas of self-worth and what it means to be a strong and independent woman.

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Slut in a Good Way introduces a new take on sexual politics and how a modern woman conducts herself. Charlotte meets two seemingly free-spirited older girls at work only to find out that they are just as judgmental as any traditional person. However, they eventually jump on the bandwagon and stand up against the boys who feel that the dynamic of the store is thrown off by the girls refusing to engage in meaningless sex with them. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s would-be suitor Guillaume doesn’t seem to care about her well-documented sexual history. Charlotte’s internal dilemma battling self-appointed shame and guilt plays a major factor in the film. The seemingly new moral seems to be: no one cares. No one cares who sleeps with whom. It is a radical idea but one that deserves to be addressed on film.

The film makes an interesting choice sticking to black-and-white cinematography. While it is lovely and oddly appropriate for a French-speaking film, the amount of potential eye-popping color in a story that takes place in a toy store seems like a shame to waste. The performances are grounded and well-acted, particularly that of the radical activist friend Megane, who provides the biggest laughs and wittiest dialogue.

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Slut in a Good Way is a simple low-stakes romantic comedy that delves into the raunch factor without going too far. It shows provides a character study of young women expressing their sense of self-empowerment while not sugarcoating the amount of shame, judgment, and self-doubt they must endure to get to their desired state of self-assurance. It also contains a tremendous amount of heart and insight that deserves to be addressed in future romantic comedies or female-centered comedies in general.

Fantastic Fest runs September 20 – September 27. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantastic Fest: ‘An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn’ is a Movie You Won’t Soon Forget, for Better or Worse

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Jim Hoskings’ An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is a screwball comedy that throws the criminal ineptitude of Fargo and the absurdity of David Lynch’s work into a blender with the lid off, splattering into a kaleidoscopic blend of deadpan insanity and infectious fun. Filled with half-baked schemes, intentionally(?) bad acting and cringe-worthy dialogue (not to mention ridiculous Scottish folk singing), it is a voyage of ludicrous folly that will have you laughing and then laughing at how you could possibly be laughing.

The story begins with barista Lulu Danger (played by Aubrey Plaza, whose signature deadpan glare could give Wednesday Addams and Daria Morgendorffer a run for their money) being fired by her boss/husband Shane, portrayed by Emile Hirsch in a bizarre cartoonish blend of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Black that I never realized I needed in my life. After Shane Danger learns that his wife’s vegan brother Adjay has a large sum of money in a cash box at his store, his pride and greed cannot handle it and he enlists two of his employees to join him in a ridiculous heist involving unconvincing disguises. Despite their idiocy, they manage to take the box, causing Adjay to agree to hire a stranger in a laundromat, Colin (Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords), to rough up Shane and get the money back. However, the bad-haired hired hand is just as inept as the robbers and ends up being taken hostage by a fed up Lulu. Soon, the strangers are holed up in a hotel while Lulu finds a way to see the eponymous Beverly Luff Linn.

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Luff Linn is played by Craig Robinson, who has all the articulateness of Frankenstein’s monster. Yet, he seems to have cultivated a large following of adoring fans, especially Lulu. It is apparent that they have a romantic history that Lulu is interested in reigniting. Beverly’s partner Rodney (Matt Berry) is determined to keep Lulu and Beverly apart and Colin slowly reveals that he just a dimwit with a soft side and eyes for Lulu.

The film feels like an odd blend of Lynchian melodrama and nonsensical interactions that transcend any normal human behavior. The humor consists of long drawn out moments of uncomfortable awkwardness to the point where you are squirming in your seat until you find yourself laughing just to break the tension. Director Hoskings is best known for directing The Greasy Strangler, an indie film that had many people talking about its over-the-top disgusting antics, and is often compared to the work of John Waters. While this film may be more palatable for mainstream audiences, it will still struggle to land jokes with a majority of viewers. The acting is so over-the-top and seemingly amateurish which must be intentional considering the line-up of seasoned actors with comedic backgrounds. Some people may find it wildly entertaining while others may find it off-putting. Forcing a “so-bad-its-good” label on your film is a lot like trying to give yourself a nickname. It has to be done naturally by other people.

Prepare to spend the majority of the film with a “what the…?” expression on your face. But between those expressions, you’ll be laughing out loud. Plaza delivers a straight-faced performance fit for a telenovela as our lovelorn protagonist. Emile Hirsch by far gives the most farcical performance as the mobster-wannabe husband that audiences will love or hate but will certainly remember. That feeling can easily describe the entirety of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn — regardless if love it or hate it, you will definitely remember it.

Fantastic Fest runs September 20 – September 27. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantastic Fest: ‘Starfish’ – Multi-sided and Pretty to Look at, But Slow Moving

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Musician Al White of the UK band Ghostlight makes his film debut as a director, writer, and composer in Starfish, a surreal blend of slow-burning experimental horror and soft science fiction. It leads the audience down a dreamy and bizarre rabbit hole, tackling themes of loss, grief, guilt, and self-forgiveness. While the film champions a catchy soundtrack, haunting scores, and exquisite cinematography, it still has its share of shortcomings in regard to the actual plot and storytelling.

Starfish focuses on Aubrey Parker (Virginia Gardner) after the death of her beloved friend, Grace (Christina Masterson), who died from unexplained causes. Aubrey breaks into Grace’s apartment to wallow and take care of her menagerie of pets, including a tortoise named Bellini and a large bowl of jellyfish which she feeds by dropping starfish into the bowl. After getting settled into her squatting, Aubrey finds an envelope addressed to her with a mixtape inside that claims “This mixtape will save the world.” A recording of Grace’s voice declares that the tape contains signals within the songs that contain messages of impending doom. Aubrey must find all seven of the mixtapes hidden throughout the quiet, frosty town and piece them together. Thus begins a journey into the unknown, in both the external world and within Aubrey’s tormented psyche.

We see faceless chthonic monsters stalking Aubrey in her dreams, but Starfish is determined to be vague about what is literal and what is metaphorical. Aubrey is haunted by her grief over Grace and guilt about her own past, and the Lovecraftian humanoids seem to be personifications of her negative internalized feelings. The scavenger hunt for the mixtapes feels like the tape could easily have been nothing more than MacGuffin to help Aubrey embrace her very real, very grounded emotions. However, the film goes beyond metaphorical, and fully immerses itself in the speculative. The apocalypse is coming. With every tape she listens to, each well-curated song transports her through a dissociative interdimensional odyssey, bouncing from tundra to oceans to Japanese animation, and even dabbling in meta for a brief moment. It is a cerebral journey through space and time that has to pull over every once in a while to let Aubrey process her own personal turmoil.

Starfish makes for a compelling psychological thriller in the vein of ‘The Babadook’ in a Lovecraft scenario

While the film is visually stunning with its arthouse surrealism and breathtaking cinematography, it still struggles to seamlessly integrate the emotional grit with the cosmic horror. It has its strengths in both of these elements, particularly in White’s spectacular scores and the indie soundtrack (which I now want), but the science fiction/horror elements struggle to piece together any real plot. Little goes explained about how or why the world is ending, which leaves it open-ended yet frustrating when you’ve been invested in Aubrey and just want her to succeed and move on with her life. The music video-esque special effects and surrealism feel out of place in a story entrenched in down-to-earth humanistic themes such as grief and guilt.

Starfish Al White

Overall, I would have preferred Starfish to keep the Armageddon themes metaphorical and psychological rather than try to convince us it was really happening. At its core, the film makes for a compelling psychological thriller in the vein of The Babadook in a Lovecraft scenario, but it doesn’t have quite enough science fiction to call it a science fiction film, nor enough horror to call it a horror film. Still, it’s lovely to look at and has well-crafted shots. A personal favorite involves a conversation Aubrey imagines having with Grace in bed. Even though the camera goes from shot to reverse-shot as they talk, both women are laying on the same side of the bed rather than facing each other, reminding the audience that it’s all happening in Aubrey’s mind. That kind of attention to detail is very admirable for a first-time director. While the plot may have needed some strengthening, Starfish makes for a scenic cinematic experience into a new world.

Fantastic Fest runs September 20 – September 27. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantastic Fest 2017: My Best Of The Fest

Emmett takes a look at his favorite offerings from 2017’s event.

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Fantastic Fest, celebrating its 13th year, once again lived up to its title, securing its reputation as one of the best-curated and surprising film festivals around.

By the fest’s own standards, 2017 was a noticeably restrained year. This is in part due to the controversy surrounding founder Tim League and his cadre of predatory men, all of whom were absent. Many festival goers, in quiet protest, wore stickers reading “we are ALL fantastic” attached to their badges, and Tim League’s missing brand of hysterical cinephilia was approximated but never matched.

The film selection also felt more restrained this year. To be clear, this year’s programming was perhaps the best in the event’s history, but felt lacking in the more outrageous offerings of yesteryear. Perhaps Fantastic Fest is growing up. That doesn’t appear to be a problem, because nearly everything on offer was spectacular, and the new voices being heard here portend good things for the future of the craft. I saw roughly 20 films, and it was a real chore to choose five favorites, but here they are:

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse

Rightful winner of the “Next Wave” Best Picture Award this year, Hagazussa will surely be divisive among general audiences, but was beloved here at Fantastic Fest. It is a transfixing and deeply subversive investigation of the Witch mythology, but it is also a methodically slow, largely plotless tone poem with no obvious precedent and no real market. Lukas Feigelfeld filmed this insightful work as his graduation thesis, so watch out for that guy.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos can only make Yorgos Lanthimos movies, but if you can get into his worlds, they are beautiful and revealing. Sacred Deer begins as a off-kilter portrait of a successful nuclear family, and steadily grows more and more stressful until it mercifully ends. Everyone delivers their performances with stilted, emotionless affect, but Lanthimos’ command of tension and sense of humor are unbeatable. Barry Keoghan comes into his own with a frightening performance. Any other filmmaker would trip over this concept, but Lanthimos and his actors sell it beautifully.

Thelma

Joachim Trier’s new film is an off-to-college coming-of-age horror effort in the vein of last year’s Raw, but with softer edges and a more surreal conceit. Thelma is a young Christian who goes off to college and confronts repressed queerness and dormant superpowers. Eili Harboe delivers a nuanced performance as the titular young woman caught between her personal awakening and her religious and familial commitments. Trier refuses to deliver a simple mythology or easy answers, but even his most fantastic ideas are couched in relatable human terms.

Revenge

Coralie Fargeat’s first feature film is this rape-revenge thriller, and she proves to be an absolute champion of form. While Revenge is relentlessly tense and enthusiastically violent, Fargeat also has an intelligent grip on the themes and implication of her work. This is not a didactic film, but it is smart. Fargeat condemns the male gaze, while indulging the more bloodthirsty thrill seekers, as Jenn (played by Matilda Lutz) performs a masterful transformation from fun-loving attention seeker to resourceful warrior. Revenge is the most satisfying revenge film in years.

Bodied

Big-shot music video director Joseph Kahn made this subversive and heartbreaking film about battle rap in East Oakland. It’s also very funny, and whether or not its really your thing (its not mine), there is some undeniably beautiful wordplay in here. Calum Worthy plays Adam, a white and nerdy master’s thesis candidate investigating the use of the N-word in battle rap, but it turns out that he can rap himself, and his burgeoning career begins to wreak havoc on his life. Along the way Kahn lampoons volatile dialogue around race from every angle, and offers no way out of the labyrinthine discourse. He brings refreshing frankness and uncomfortable humor to an incredibly complex and important topic, but it is mostly a funny battle rap movie, so it does have has its limitations.

Check out Goomba Stomp’s complete coverage of 2017’s Fantastic Fest

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