The Blazing World, 2021.
Directed by Carlson Young.
Starring Carlson Young, Udo Kier, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, Soko, and John Karna.
A woman believes her deceased sister may still be alive and trapped in another metaphysical realm, from which she tries to save her.
Horror films typically open with something a bit scary; something that lets you dip your toe in the water so you can try to comprehend what is to come. Films, even horror films, don’t usually open quite as hysterically and obnoxiously as Carlson Young’s The Blazing World, a wacky and not too instructive guide to overcoming one’s demons. The music is the first thing that hits you: melodic harp strains intercut by foghorns and drums, all of which eventually morphs into Tchaikovsky. The serene family idyll showcased quickly becomes a tragic emergency, with a hilariously creepy Udo Kier standing by, seemingly just to throw expectations further off.
The fascinating thing about this movie is that it never seems to drop the baffling act. Sure, the emotions at play are pretty straight forward: Margaret’s sister Elizabeth died in a horrific accident when the two girls were young, and, now in her mid-twenties, Margaret can’t shake the feeling that that can’t be the end of the story. Searching for a portal to another world, guarded by Kier’s character Lained, Margaret seeks her sisters trapped soul, and a sense of closure. In addition to playing Margaret, Young cowrote the script and directs here, using every sound effect and editing technique at her disposal to indicate that the audience should not settle into their seats. Relying on jump cuts and loud, screeching strings makes for some messy editing early on, and the lack of breathing space provided means it’s a little difficult to build empathy for Margaret, whose expressive face betrays her discomfort with every social interaction.
There is a nice familiarity in the coldness of the world we see here, though the characters, even the real ones, seem more caricatured than developed. Margaret’s mother regrets and her already abusive father drinks, and her stoner friends veg out to mediocre shoegaze music whilst waxing lyrical about the Silmarillion and reading tarot cards. As a result, everything feels very much like a film. Then Margaret chases Lained through a portal, into a shadowy world of chilling mystery. Immediately there is comfort to be found in the childhood, fairytale logic of Margaret’s mission to save her sister’s soul, the fantastical additions reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth and Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales. Side-stepping the horror box the film was headed for, Young allows herself room to play with absurdity, tension and emotion, never straying far from the path to predictable redemption.
The scenario allows for a lot of pleasingly imaginative choices, all created with excellent design and vision – The Blazing World is never short on immaculate visuals. Yet it exists merely in a steady waterfall of metaphors, which range from clumsily simple to overbearingly didactic. As Margaret overcomes parental failings and personal guilt, there is a sense that all that was delightfully uncertain at the beginning has become too thoroughly explained away. Additionally, navigating all of the withheld grief seems to stretch the 100 minute runtime into something that feels quite a lot longer. Young’s talent as a director is quite clear, and her knowledge and manipulation of cinematic techniques – which may not be for everyone; some might deem them cliches – should be applauded. It is rather a shame that the script wasn’t looked over one or two times to smooth out the overstated, clinical character arcs.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★