Writer/director Richard Bailey (A Ship of Human Skin, The Mock Destruction of the World) has described his second feature, King Judith, as “a poetic ghost story”. And it is poetic and even dreamlike at times, with the kind of imagery and structure, or lack thereof, that implies.
Miriam Leaf (Nicole Fancher, Shifter, American Sniper) is a detective investigating the disappearance of three female scholars, Jolene (Joanna Schellenberg, The Circle Game, Stuck), Catherine (Jenny Ledel, Tokyo ESP, Karma Police), and Rebecca ( Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso) who were studying Southern tales concerning “The Lady of the Lake”. These tales seem to be more closely related to the Mexican stories of La Llorona than the enchantress who bestowed Excaliber on King Arthur.
As the film starts she’s interviewing Doyenne (Rhonda Boutte, Civic Duty) about Jolene whom Doyenne refers to as Sister Woman. When a mime named Neeley (Ely Sellers) comes by the interview turns into an impromptu dance performance. And that’s the kind of occurrence you can expect all through King Judith, it’s filled with colourful characters acting unpredictably.
Much of the film takes the form of stories Miriam hears during her investigation. And as she gets deeper into that investigation she begins to have visions of Judith (Emily Ernst, Almost Normal, Spider Veins). And the more she digs into the case, the stronger Judith’s presence gets.
Very little of this makes sense in any conventional sense of the word. King Judith is very definitely an art film and frequently borders on the surreal. I actually watched the film twice, the second time after reading a couple of interviews with Richard Bailey. That made it more understandable, but honestly, you shouldn’t have to do that in order to be able to make sense of a film.
Granted I’m probably not the target audience for this film and I would assume that audience would have a clearer idea of what’s going on or at least a point of reference to start figuring it out. But anyone walking in cold is in for some rough going.
Coming back to it the second time, King Judith is fairly interesting, if still hard to understand in places. It’s a weird little film that mixes folklore, and Southern Gothic, with a dose of women’s studies, and comes up with something that feels almost like a stage play that was adapted for the screen. The individual stories are certainly interesting and combine to create something I found fairly unique.
The cast approaches the film’s bizarre plot lines, intentionally stilted dialogue, and frequent use of dance with considerable enthusiasm and does a solid job despite most of them having few credits to their name. Sharp-eyed viewers may notice the film’s one veteran actor, Van Quattro. He’s been around since the 80s appearing in everything from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days and Bretta’s Island, an attempt to launch Arnold’s training partner Franco Columbu as an action hero, to more recent films like Mickey Reece’s Agnes.
If you’ve read this far then you have some idea of what to expect from King Judith, and if you’re curious I’d say the same thing that I said about Something in the Dirt a couple of days ago. It’s worth the effort to get through. This does take a bit more effort though.
Indie Rights Films, which bizarrely lists the film under Action/Adventure on its website, has released King Judith to Digital platforms including Tubi. And that might be the best place to check it out if you’re unsure if it’s your kind of film. You can find out more about the film itself on its Facebook page.