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.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: The Night House

Written by Taylor Baker

78/100

David Bruckner who rose to some prominence through his work on the anthology short collections V/H/S and cult darling Southbound returns with his sophomore feature follow up to 2017’s The Ritual with The Night House. He taps Rebecca Hall to play Beth whose husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) recently passed away, but the home he built for her remains. And as she haunts it, it seems something may be in the house alongside her.

The Night House has many of the fanciful tropes of the genre at work, but none feel too out of place. You’ve got your mysterious husband who’s died before we enter. His possibly labyrinthine lakeside home left in his wake. Walls of books of mysterious origin. And of course a crucial neighbor character. These each on their own might induce an eye roll. But their cohesive presentation alongside Bruckner’s dexterous tone management keep The Night House engaging.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021

Elisha Christian serves as cinematographer, his camera sweeps as it did in Columbus along the facade of the titular building, it’s interior, and the very landscape that it bejewels. Alternating between an icy look at the world and a less maudlin style when the sun graces the sky. The claustrophobic interiors when the night comes on are when both film and lenscraft soar. The camera movement frequent but unjerking. Often one step ahead as Beth roams her way up and down the stairs, sidling through rooms, and ever returning back to a well stocked cardboard box of brandy.

Hall returns to the heights of her abilities and reintroduces us to her acerbic wit and straightforward emotionality in her best performance since Christine (though Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is up there.). There seems to be someone or something in the house alongside her, and as we saw in 2020’s The Invisible Man, when you give an incredibly talented actress the opportunity they can spur you alongside quality direction into a deeply emotional experience of thrills and chills even when what may or may not be there remains unscene. Sarah Goldberg (who you hopefully know and love from the HBO Series Barry) plays Claire whose entire job as constructed by the screenwriters is to ground Beth as a typical best friend character. Which isn’t really a bad thing, but frustrating if you like me are a fan and want to see her with more to do.

In order to avoid giving anything significant away that would dampen a first time viewers experience I’ll dance around a few of the major plot points and speak broadly. As noted by a fellow theater goer on our way out of the theater, there’s more than a few lapses in judgement here that are hard to buy into from Hall’s Beth. She’s demonstrated herself a strong, intelligent, and capable woman. It’s hard to believe everything she has to sell us on, and the ending despite the films strong build is a weak sigh. Unwilling to face any of the demons metaphorically or in reality that have churned up during the runtime. The Night House closes with a whimper not a bang. Despite that I’d still recommend it. The first viewing of films like these are thrilling, one that any fledgling or bonafide horror and thriller fan could enjoy.

The Night House Trailer

The Night House played as part of Fantasia 2021 and is currently in theatrical wide release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s work on Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fantasia 2021 Curtain Raiser w/ Thomas Stoneham-Judge of ForReel

You can visit Fantasia Virtually or In-Person this year

Fantasia 2021 will run August 5 -25 with, as usual, a fascinating selection of genre films, talks, and experiences. In the video above, I got my friend and fellow movie writer/podcaster Thomas Stoneham-Judge from ForReel to discuss our thoughts about the this year’s festival and film lineup and, metaphorically speaking, raise the curtain on our experience with this year’s event.

To learn more about Fantasia 2021, purchase tickets, or see their lineup of films, visit https://fantasiafestival.com/en.