The Blazing World is showing at Sundance London on 31st July and 1st Aug 2021; book tickets here.
It’s been a phenomenal year for horror, and it’s all thanks to women. We started the year with the ecclesiastical eroticism of Rose Glass’ Saint Maud before being treated to Prano Bailey-Bond screaming static neo-Gothic Censor. While Nia DaCosta’s Candyman has begun to emerge from its hive and looks to be 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 doesn’t gently guide you into its landscape – it drops you, disorientated and confused, and that’s exactly how it wants you. A child drowned in a pool, a crow beating itself to death against a wall, and an unsettlingly Udo Kier beckoning us into a mysterious portal. These are both clues to unlocking the enigma of Margaret and harbingers of the madness to come. There’s an off-kilter dream-like contradiction to Margaret’s childhood moments, as though there’s a kind of macabre magic to what has unfolded. It feels as though we aren’t viewing these memories as an outsider, but through the warped mind of Margaret – as 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 easily.
Throughout Margaret’s eventual return to her childhood manor, Young constantly seeds and sows doubt into our minds with her schizophrenic editing. People vanish into thin air, mumble things under their breath, and then act as though they’ve been silent; events happen but then unhappen. Young sews an unstable and erratic texture into us, allowing us to understand the psychology of Margaret, taking her inner instability and painting the world using its fractured colours, teaching us to trust nothing, perhaps even Margaret herself. There are shades of a Lynchian influence as Margaret’s friends perform beneath a tarp of blue velvet, 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?
Once Margaret finally traverses into The Blazing World itself, Young takes us on a poisoned fairy-tale, a Pan’s Labyrinth of trauma – 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 herself, 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 breathtaking landscapes; an endless desert, a deathly intoxicating crypt, and a pained purgatory of neon light.
Throughout her encounters with her personal demons, it’s Young’s schizophrenic editing that pushes this tensive peril more and more, suffocating us with unease as the violins shriek louder and louder. It’s a sonic cacophony of dread and remorse as Margaret is forced to re-tread her own painful childhood, confronting this deeply-layered trauma head-on through the manifestations of guilt, anger and ultimately, utter despair. It’s through this emotional grounding that The Blazing World feels frighteningly real – to be so overcome with pain and self-hatred that it feels as though it’s its own being, consuming you from the inside. It’s horrifying, but it’s also a deeply poetic reflection of the monstrous nature of trauma. Ultimately, every fairytale 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.