The Blazing World is showing at Sundance London on 31st July and 1st Aug, book tickets here.
The past twelve months have offered us some brilliant horrors, largely thanks to a wave of stunning female directors. We have experienced the ecclesiastical eroticism of Rose Glass’ Saint Maud following its 2019 London Film Festival premiere. Plus, Prano Bailey-Bond’s neo-Gothic Censor. Meanwhile, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman looks set to emerge from its hive as an unsettling laceration of American socio-political tensions. But, there’s another horror wunderkind that’s emerged, burning like a violent flame, and her name is Carlson Young.
The Blazing World does not attempt to guide you into its landscape gently. This is a movie that drops you straight in from a height, leaving you disorientated and confused as a result. Of course, that is precisely how Young wants you to feel. From a child drowning in a pool to a crow beating itself to death against a wall and an unsettling yet inviting Udo Kier beckoning us into a mysterious portal.
READ MORE FROM SUNDANCE LONDON 2021 HERE
These events act as both clues to unlocking the enigma of Margaret and harbingers of the madness to come. Here, there is an off-kilter dream-like contradiction to Margaret’s childhood moments, as though there’s a kind of macabre magic to what unfolds. One that engulfs us through a warped perception of who Margaret is. Udo Kier’s, Lained, later tells us, Margaret never cracked. Was this because she refused to accept the brutal reality of what happened, instead constructing a fantastical mirage around it to shield herself from the trauma? Answers are not something The Blazing World gives up quickly.
Throughout Margaret’s eventual return to her childhood manor, Young constantly seeds and sows doubt into our minds. Here, People vanish into thin air, mumble things under their breath, then act as though they’ve been silent; events happen but then unhappen. Young sews an unstable and erratic texture, allowing us to understand the psychology of Margaret, taking her internal instability and painting the world using its fractured colours, teaching us to trust nothing, perhaps even Margaret herself. As Margaret’s friends perform beneath a tarp of blue velvet, there are shades of a Lynchian influence, sheltered by this strangely anachronistic space out of time. There’s a profound sense of the uncanny, as everything begins to feel ever-so-slightly off yet frighteningly real – are there clues to the nature of this place, are we in a fantasy or a reality?
READ MORE: SAINT MAUD
Once Margaret finally traverses into The Blazing World itself, Young takes us on a poisoned fairy-tale, a Pan’s Labyrinth of trauma. Here, fractured reflections of her home and her loved ones spit hatred and seek violence against her. It feels like a children’s storybook has been warped and twisted, leaving unsettling frays and marks upon its once comforting pages. Her trauma has manifested itself into something far beyond her, growing powerfully monstrous as it seeks to imprison her, consuming her whole. Young is able to convey a woman reduced to child-like terror, confronting her own darkest shadows as they walk and talk in front of her. We become witness to some breath-taking landscapes; an endless desert, a deathly intoxicating crypt, a pained purgatory of neon light.
Throughout her encounters with her demons, it’s Young’s editing that pushes this tensive peril, suffocating us with unease as the violins shriek louder and louder. The result, a sonic cacophony of dread and remorse, as Margaret is forced to re-tread her painful childhood. The deeply-layered trauma faced head-on through the manifestation of guilt, anger and ultimately, utter despair, the result frighteningly real. Here, pain and self-hatred become living beings, consuming their prey from the inside. It’s a horrifying yet also profoundly poetic reflection of the monstrous nature of trauma.
Ultimately, every fairy-tale has a lesson, and Carlson Young has her own to share with us – it’s not as clear-cut nor easily understood as your childhood storybooks, but the best lessons never are. Carlson Young has penned a beautifully demented fairy-tale, encapsulating the ravenous nature of trauma upon the human condition – it’s the horror of humanity writ large, and it is one of the best films of the year. With another film currently in development, I cannot wait to see what she has next for us.