Written by Patrick Hao
The Blazing World is part of a concerning trend with genre movies in which filmmakers and the film press feel like in order to instill these films with a sense of importance, these films have to be didactically about real world trauma. The Babadook, a movie I love, is the first one of these films that come to mind in the way that the press hailed it as great because it tackled such heavy subject matter like postpartum depression. As that movie garnered praise and attention, more and more genre films have seemingly felt the need to be shallow and explicit about the very “trauma” at their core.
Recent examples, such as Candyman, The Night House, and the David Gordon Green’s new Halloween movies come to mind as films that put the subtext as text in a way that feels self-conscious in asserting their importance to the public discourse of trauma. This feels especially disconcerting given that a genre like horror has always been about trauma as the root of fear, but it was allowed to exist as subtext. The Blazing World lives in a pretentious self-consciousness.
The title, The Blazing World, comes from Margaret Cavendish’s seminal 17th century story about a utopian society, but this film has little to do with that, having drawn more inspiration story and style-wise from C.S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll. The film follows Margaret who accidentally drowns her sister as a child while her parents (Vinessa Shaw and Dermot Mulroney) are fighting. As she contemplates suicide, she is whisked away to somewhere else through the help of a man named Lained (Udo Kier as an Udo Kier type) and a portal. Now, as an adult (played by the writer-director Carlson Young) as she returns home, she is on a surrealist journey fueled by her subconscious defined by trauma and loss.
As Carlson Young’s debut feature after spending more than a decade as a young actress doing Disney television and Scream Queens, it is easy to understand that Young wanted to throw everything at the wall to see what stuck. Her surrealist subconscious is bathed in different hues and seems informed by works from Lynch and Jodorowsky. But, in how misguided it is, The Blazing World is probably more like Terry Gilliam’s Tideland.
The world that Margaret finds herself in is neither surreal enough to allow the dreamscape to wash over the viewer nor tethered in emotions that are relatable. There is barely even tension in some of the horror focused scenes. Any room left open to interpretation is undercut by the fact that we are supposed to be seeing this as a trigger of Margaret’s trauma. There is even a character who explicitly tells Margaret what she is going through is traumatic.
The lighting and production design is also self consciously cool. The aesthetic may be best described as mid-2010s Tumblr chic with “One Perfect Shot” energy. It’s so self consciously cool that it might as well be this Letterboxd list – cool to look at but devoid of substance. But, as a calling card, Young certainly displays enough of any eye to deserve a bigger budget, and maybe a better script. It’s also hard to be too harsh on a film like The Blazing World. It is clearly a personal passion project with a lot to prove. But it also seems emblematic of a trend in genre movies that should be quickly reversed. Let subtext be subtext.
The Blazing World Trailer
The Blazing World will be available in limited theatrical release and to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms on October 15th.