With horror films in general and increasingly mired in slow-cinema formalism and banal explorations of trauma and representation without the spine of narrative (not to mention blatant this-movie-is-like-that-movie referencing), it was only a matter of time before someone truly concocted the ultimate cliche. The Blazing World is that film, a disarmingly charmless and amateurish series of indie genre check-boxes dressed up as something desperate to be described as “like Alice in Wonderland on acid” or something equally hack-ish.
The story opens with twin girls Margaret and Lizzie, dressed in identical pink dresses, collecting fireflies on their family’s sprawling estate. While mom and dad (Vinessa Shaw and Dermot Mulroney, respectively) have a blistering argument that soon spirals into something fairly abusive, Lizzie drowns in the pool and Margaret sees Udo fucking Kier beckoning her into a swirling black wormhole. Cut to the present day, where we find Margaret (writer/director/star Carlson Young) paralyzed by the memory of her sister and searching for answers. Minus the gonzo-cinema pandering, it’s all very Psych 101. She returns to her parents’ place to help them move out of the mansion, but her relationship with them remains strained. After a night out with some old friends, the film shifts into Margaret’s dreamscape journey into her own psyche, a tiresome mish-mash of cinematic touchstones, from Dr. Caligari to The Cell to (most egregiously) Pan’s Labyrinth.
Margaret’s Mind Palace is a brightly-colored, greenscreen-infested journey through chintzy production design, quasi-feminist pop psychology, and recurring appearances of Kier saying things like “I am the darkest tree in the forest of light!” while he eats magic bugs. It’s all rife with obvious symbolism and self-help platitudes, so that we can have the scintillating experience of watching Margaret collect four keys from four different weird monsters in her psyche in the hopes of recovering her long-gone sister. Young shoots the entire thing in either locked-off symmetry or wispy faux-Terrence Malick handheld, but neither technique is employed for any good reason. And there’s still a good chunk of running time left when Margaret announces “What if there isn’t any bottom of the rabbit hole?” How profound.
Published as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 6.