Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ludlow: A Thought-ening

I've been wanting to see Ludlow (2010) for a loooooong time. It's no secret that I'm a fan of Stacie Ponder's Final Girl and Ludlow is the beloved blogger's first almost-feature-length-film. For someone with enough smarts and wit to put most of the horror community to shame I had high expectations for it. Luckily Ponder delivers, for the most part.



The plot of Ludlow is a simple one. Krista (Shannon Lark) makes a daring escape from an abusive boyfriend and holes up in a motel in Ludlow waiting for her sister Maddy to join her. In the ensuing days Krista begins to lose her grip on reality. Her only connection to the outside world is a permanently refilling bottle of vodka, a tv forever on the blink and a cell phone which alternates between receiving phone calls from her ex and from her sister. The phone functions as the film's deus ex machina offering her comfort, support and fear all at the same time. It is the only thing that truly helps the viewer distinguish between days, helps move the plot forward and reveals the true nature of Krista's mental state.

The film works on many, many levels. Ponder has been able to distill some powerful moments of filmmaking. There are some incredibly effective jump scares (all the more impressive because a good jump-scare is like trying to re-inventing the wheel, but scarier) and builds the dread that is inherently present in the situation. Ponder is able to do this because she focuses on character. Without giving too much away, Ponder builds the audiences sympathies to Krista by employing experimental film techniques to let the audience understand her and her plight.Well played, non?

There is an interesting problem in films of this nature. Namely its pacing. I know several other bloggers including Ponder herself have listed a litany of influences for this film. For my money, I could not get away from Roman Polanski's Repulsion.  Between the dependent sister relationship to the isolation within a small living space it seemed to ring the most true to me. I mention this only because they suffer from the same problems. It is difficult at the best of times to make a film with your main character suffering from a psychotic break. it is even harder when that character is confined to a small space. The film plays out in chapters that all feel startlingly similar. The day starts normally. Krista undergoes a traumatic event, usually involving blood, freaks out then realizes it was all in her mind. Blackout. The next day begins. There is a definite build in tension during these days but the formula becomes the same. Watching it at a film festival last night I could feel the audience around me getting increasingly restless as the pattern repeated.

Ludlow suffers from another problem, an extremely rare one at that. It has multiple endings. All of them good. But I went to put on my coat three times. That was the point the film really began to drag for me. We'd hit an ending I thought was incredibly satisfying then it would continue. It felt like reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel and reading all the endings to see what you were in for. While this is a criticism of the movie I think it's a credit to Ponder's writing abilities. And the boundaries you can push within the medium of film.

All this to say, it's not an easy viewing. It forces you to engage rather than passively sitting in front of it. It is, however, worth the effort.

Check the Ludlow Facebook page for upcoming screenings near you or view the trailer and order from Final Girl

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