The Blazing World

Written by Patrick Hao

35/100

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.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Candyman (2021)

Written by Alexander Reams

93/100

Horror has been used frequently over the years as a metaphor for racial injustice. To even explain that much of horror is influenced by politics and a mirror on the current society should be unnecessary, but more often than not the message gets lost in translation. From the iconic Night of the Living Dead and The Craft to the more recent Get Out and The First Purge. This resurgence in showing racial injustice through horror has felt damning to society, and brought a breath of fresh air to the horror genre. In walks Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, which trades dialogue telling us why what’s happening is bad for wonderfully brutal, disturbing violence. However, before that disturbing violence, DaCosta treats us to a Shining-esque opening credits through an upside down Chicago, something that not only plays to the themes of the film, but simply looks gorgeous and increased my anticipation for the next 91 minutes to follow. 

DaCosta uses Bernard Rose’s 1992 classic eponymously titled film as a jumping off point while weaving in the injustice from our modern culture as the true villain. DaCosta’s film stands proudly on its own, introducing us to the story of Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (a brilliant Yahya Abdul- Mateen II) as he moves to the setting of Rose’s 1992 film, the Cabrini-Green housing projects, that have now been gentrified, something DaCosta never shies away from talking about and ultimately condemning. With Anthony comes his partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris, the unsung hero of Candyman), have moved into this mecca of gentrification, all while pointing out the irony of their residence. While Brianna is succeeding, Anthony seems to be falling behind everyone. Having created nothing in years until he hears a story about what used to stand where they lived. Anthony has a creative burst that Brianna initially sees as a fantastic thing for their relationship. Until the bodies start piling up. 

Well, not piling, more like a small bump. The violence and kills are not as frequent as in its 1992 predecessor, but hit harder with the way DaCosta places the camera and blocks each scene. Letting the brutality play out at times, and letting our imagination run at others. Oftentimes, at least for this writer, my imagination can think up so many worse scenarios than what plays out on screen, and when a director is smart enough to tap into that, the scenes have an even higher tension within them. Even still, bodies are starting to turn up, and all after Anthony brings attention to the ritual which can summon the candyman in his latest exhibit. With each kill, Anthony becomes more and more obsessed with Candyman, and one could understand why, myself included. The history is not only fascinating, but you want to know more just from reading it.

Nia DaCosta has crafted a modern horror masterpiece that has explicit tones of race, gentrification, and police brutality. Working through all of these themes with vicious, animalistic kills that are filmed like a work of art being created in front of us. I loved Candyman and I love Nia DaCosta even more now and cannot wait to see her next films, how she evolves and matures as a filmmaker, and how she brings these themes into each of her works.

Candyman (2021) Trailer

Candyman (2021) is currently in theatrical wide release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.