The weird, trippy, uncomfortable, metaphorical, and sometimes nonsensical world of Surrealist films tends to divide both audiences and critics. Since breaking with convention means fewer normative metrics, these artistic endeavors can be tough to objectively evaluate. Thus, more emphasis is often placed on each viewer’s subjective experience. The Blazing World exists well within this Surrealist tradition; however, it also strikes a balance that may give it a more general appeal. Ultimately, it’s more than just a gorgeous work of art. The Blazing World is also a terrifying horror flick and a meaningful metaphor for mental trauma.
Decades after watching her twin sister drowned in the family pool as a young child, Margaret (Carlson Young) is still coping with the trauma. Haunted by the image of a mysterious figure (Udo Kier) taking her sister through a portal, Margaret becomes enamored with a television psychic who speaks of other dimensions beyond the physical realm. When she takes a trip back to her hometown, she visits with her mother (Vinessa Shaw) and father (Dermot Mulroney), each of whom is caught in their own self-destructive spirals. When the portal from that tragic day reveals itself again, Margaret enters. Finding herself in a dark and otherworldly realm, the mysterious figure tells Margaret her sister is here. However, to find her she must acquire three keys, each in the possession of a different demon.
In true surrealistic fashion, much of the story is told through visuals and experience. Even before we enter this creepy underworld, the ambiance is very dreamlike. This mysterious figure serves minimally as a narrative guide once Margaret descends the rabbit hole, but exudes an aura so sinister and unnerving that he adds more to the perplexity than he subtracts. The always foreboding Udo Kier is a master of such roles as his signature eeriness plays naturally into the unsettling atmosphere.
Even more astonishing is the set building. Every scene is intricately constructed to be its own work of art. Some are complemented with ominously beautiful orchestral scoring. Incredible expertise in the use of visual and auditory techniques is on display, each working together in effective, and often surprising ways, to create this creepy atmosphere, and keep the audience enthralled. Therefore, it’s absolutely astounding that, in addition to playing Margaret, 30-year-old Carlson Young also co-wrote and directed this masterful work of art. The incredible amount of vision and talent that went into this, on what I’m sure was an extremely modest budget, suggests this may be the blossoming of a very promising career.
A common criticism for Surrealist films is they sometimes lean too hard into being weird just for the sake of being weird. What one person may find to be a metaphorical masterpiece another may see as a pretentious indulgence. Therefore, a film like this needs to have some message, or at least a discernible point, to succeed with anyone other than avant-garde aficionados. The Blazing World overcomes this audience limiting barrier first by embracing enough conventional motifs to work as a horror film.
The Blazing World isn’t just weird, it’s scary, and the surrealist and horror elements complement each other very well. Most importantly it doesn’t bury the metaphor. At its core, The Blazing World is a visceral rendition of guilt-laden trauma. It’s taking us on an interpretive journey through Margaret’s psyche as it explores the cascading impact a tragedy can have on a family’s mental wellbeing. This is illustrated with profound symbolism that’s subtle enough to blend into the ambiance, but not so subtle that the meaning gets lost. Thus, there is a clear purpose to this film beyond just artistic indulgence, and a meaningful one at that.
For any unconventional, artistic, and surrealist cinephiles, The Blazing World is a film you won’t want to miss! However, if describing this as a spiritual blending of Pan’s Labyrinth, Jacob’s Ladder, and Mulholland Dr. sends you running for the hills, it’s probably for the best. Yet, I’m going to put my neck out and suggest if you enjoyed any of those, there is a good chance you’ll appreciate The Blazing World as well. It’s a beautiful, meticulously crafted work of art, that also works brilliantly as a mind-bending horror film, and a meaningful reflection on guilt and trauma.
About The Blazing World
Synopsis: Margaret remains haunted by her childhood memory of witnessing her twin sister drown. Returning to her hometown, she finds herself in the presence of the mysterious portal she remembers from that day and enters an otherworldly realm in search of her sister.
Director: Carlson Young
Writers: Carlson Young, Pierce Brown
Stars: Udo Kier, Carlson Young, Dermot Mulroney, Edith Gonzalez, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, Soko
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 1 Hour, 41 Minutes
Releases: October 15th, 2021 (USA)
I am an ASU honors graduate with bachelors in Political Science and Philosophy. I work as a Paralegal by day and enjoy casual, volunteer, and sometimes freelance writing on the side. I'm a long time movie buff and avid gamer. Collectible card and board games are my specialty. I also remain actively engaged in the world of politics and like to stay up to date on all things science. If there is one goal I have in life it is to never stop learning.