A country house. A quarrelling couple. A swimming pool. An infant floating face down. The Blazing World makes clear reference to Don’t Look Now in its opener, only this time we have an operatic score and Udo Kier standing next to a black hole, beckoning the dead infant’s young sister to follow him to an alternate dimension. It makes a pretty strong impression, setting the tone for a film that makes a show of its high production values.
Things progress quite nicely hereafter, albeit for just 20 minutes or so. Carlson Young gives a good performance as Margaret Winter, the surviving infant who is now a young woman, and she has chemistry with her parents, the still quarrelling Alice (Vinessa Shaw) and Tom (Dermot Mulroney). Those production values give it a good look, too. Offbeat camera angles are paired with stylish grading and full-bodied colours, creating frames that can be genuinely painterly, especially a shot of a neon-lit bar.
However, shortly after that neon shot comes the arrival of a woman dressed in ‘40s garb and talking nonsense about Tarot or some other kind of fortune-telling guff. Then, after another visit from the demonic Udo Kier, Margaret travels to a different dimension, where she stays for the remainder of the picture. From this moment, the dearth of character and narrative development becomes painfully clear.
We get subjected to reams of high fantasy claptrap as Margaret searches for keys in the hope of finding her dead sister. This takes her through a maze of doors that lead to strange, fantastical worlds. It’s like Pan’s Labyrinth, only much worse. Again, it’s expensively staged and professionally photographed, but it’s all so vacuously symbolic. It is a theme park of self-indulgence from Carlson Young, who writes and directs this loose adaptation of the 1666 novel.
Eyelids became particularly heavy during a sequence in which Margaret lays in a neon-framed box and screams her head off, prostrate with delirium. Then there’s an interminable monologue from Kier where he talks about being a ‘harbinger of violence’ and a ‘man who doesn’t feel pain’. It’s like watching a pantomime with a few cattle prod scares.