The Blazing World


Reviewed by: Stephanie Brown

The Blazing World
"Despite its share of mismatched moments, Young’s feature has a lot of creative flair." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Carlson Young throws audiences down the rabbit hole in her feature film debut The Blazing World, following the psychedelic short of the same title she made three years earlier. The Blazing World explores a mind-bending distortion of the psyche in periods of grief and trauma, making the Alice in Wonderland meets Pan’s Labyrinth writing simultaneously intriguing but equally devoid of any distinct novelty.

Margaret Winter (also played by Young) goes back to her troubled family home, still harbouring deep feelings of grief and guilt for her sister’s death that she has never truly accepted. Her parents are implied to be dysfunctional, stemming mainly from her father, Tom Winter (Dermot Mulroney), and his extreme alcoholism. It is unclear whether she predominantly holds blame over her parents’ heads, or blames herself as a child for being away from her sister when she was drowning in the grounds. In an attempt to cope with her shattered mind, an ominous guide known as Lained (Udo Kier) leads her into another dimension where her sister may still be alive.

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Young and Brown’s script begins well and holds its aloofness impressively, it balances the mysteries of the cosmos that seems to open up around Margaret’s home, with the sense of doubt that Margaret’s mind is responsible for their creation entirely, without leaning too heavily in either direction. We follow Margaret’s character solely through her interactions and perceptions associated with the shifts of unreality that follow her, but without getting much insight into Margaret’s character it becomes difficult to understand and appreciate the dimensions we follow her into. Never has leaping through wormholes had such a flat affect.

The cinematography from Shane F Kelly has a similar identity crisis. A lot of the dreamlike imagery is captivating and immersive - particularly when the film reaches its second act and we see Margaret moving around Lained’s dimension. To say that the psychedelic notes weren’t worthy of great merit would be ingenuine. However, some of the main problems surrounding the general look of many parts of the feature, are centred around a combination of over-stylisation and influential contrasts that never really gel together. It often feels like the character of Margaret has been based on snippets of Giallo cinema, while moving through stills and motion shots that mirror that of Del Toro, Lynch, and Dali. Much like elements of the script, the cinematography often seems to lose itself in the incoherent thematic mazes.

Despite its share of mismatched moments, Young’s feature has a lot of creative flair. The enigmatic nature of the film is guided well by its central performances. Young is intriguing in the role and opens up Margaret’s internal turmoil with a natural vulnerability, but the underdevelopment of her story is limiting, and will make many hope for more plot than the script can offer. Mulroney and Kier also do well in their similar roles of the gentle menace with an essence of malevolence bubbling under the surface.

The Blazing World is an interesting feature from Young, thriving through moments of artistry and mystery. While some of the script falls flat, there are most definitely stark building blocks for a thought-provoking production. Perhaps The Blazing World was meant to work better as a short, where puzzles can comfortably precede plot. Nevertheless, many of the elements and ideas explored in The Blazing World, make Young one to watch out for in her next project.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2021
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The Blazing World packshot
Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive.
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Director: Carlson Young

Writer: Pierce Brown, Carlson Young

Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, Carlson Young, Udo Kier, John Karna, Soko, Liz Mikel, Sophia Bernard, Ace Anderson, Lillie Fink, Josie Fink, Breckyn Hager, Robert H. Lambert, Laurel Day, Bailey Lewis

Year: 2021

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Sundance 2021

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