Tag Archives: Vinessa Shaw

Through the Looking Glass Darkly

The Blazing World

by Hope Madden

Creepy twin stuff, Udo Kier, alternate realities—yes, The Blazing World. I am in.

Co-writer/director/star Carlson Young takes us on a strange journey as Margaret Winter, haunted twin who lost her sister ten years ago. Struggling to get by, she relents and visits her needy mother (Vinessa Shaw) and difficult father (Dermot Mulroney), who are packing up Margaret’s childhood home for sale.

And that is the last normal thing that happens.

Working with cinematographer Shane F. Kelly (Boyhood), Carlson conjures a beautifully melancholic world, one that almost seems like our world but only if you squint. The colors and music suggest a vibrant but eerie dreamscape, the ideal spot for Margaret to lose herself – and maybe find her sister.

The title suggests Margaret Cavendish’s 17th Century feminist utopia, but Young’s script (co-written with Pierce Brown) takes only the loosest inspiration. Rather than the tale of a woman learning to lead in another realm, this The Blazing World reimagines one life’s greatest traumas as fantastical games to be overcome.

Carlson herself does a solid job of shouldering heroine duties, and she surrounds herself with talent. While Shaw and Mulroney deliver wild and eerie performances, it is Udo Kier you’ll remember best. Of course it is! As gamesman, devil and guide, he charms in his wearily creepy way.

Young’s writing can’t quite keep up with her knack for casting, though. While several scenes in and of themselves stand out spectacularly, and the weaving together of the various images creates a strange and intoxicating flavor, the underlying story is just too slight and the metaphors somewhat tortured.


We Need to Do Something

by Hope Madden

We’ve all felt a little trapped lately. But the pandemic was completely different depending on your situation. Were you trapped and utterly alone, like Bo Burnham? Because that seemed sad and reflective, funny and inspirational and wildly successful. (See Inside if you haven’t.)

Or were you trapped with your family?

We Need to Do Something is a parable about being stuck for a long time with the people you  know best and were probably sick of in the first place. The world outside your doors offers a high possibility of death, but the world inside might be even worse.

Parable is a strong word. We Need to Do Something is a nightmare.

Mel (Sierra McCormick, The Vast of Night) made it home from her friend’s house just in time to miss the tornado. Her mom (Vinessa Shaw) ushers everyone —Mel, her little brother Bobby (John James Cronin) and their dad (Pat Healy) — into the safest room in the house, the bathroom. Here they will wait out the storm.

The storm damages the house, and they are pinned in. Days go by. Why hasn’t anyone come for them? Why is their dad such a dick? What are those noises outside the door?

Director Sean King O’Grady, working from the screenplay Max Booth III adapted from his own novella, mixes claustrophobic dread and adolescent angst with few enough contrivances that he never loses your interest.

Hints dropped early in the story come to hideous life later on (as ugly secrets sometimes do at things like family holidays and vacations or when you’re stuck for a long time in the bathroom). And though the “theater of the mind” component, piquing interest in what exactly lay outside that door, could be stronger, the performances are enough to keep your attention.

Healy, in particular, delivers a characteristically unpleasant performances, feeling very much like a trapped rat.

The hallucinogenic subplot about guilt and trauma and adolescent experimentation with pink goth suggests that the more time you spend with your parents, the more overwhelmed you’ll be by nameless shame and guilt. That feels right.

There’s no real story here. The whole film is essentially Act 2: no catalyst, no resolution. That doesn’t make for a deeply satisfying story, but it does feel a lot like the pandemic.

God Help Me, I Miss the Piñata

By Hope Madden

Enigmatic filmmaker Makinov (he wears a mask, which is weird) launches a new thriller this weekend called Come Out and Play, and it may feel pretty familiar. That could be because it is a nearly shot-for-shot remake of Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s little-seen 1976 flick Who Can Kill a Child? (released in the US as Island of the Damned).

Whether you saw that dusty gem or not, you’re still likely to find the film recognizable because Come Out and Play boils down to a familiar template: protagonists are stranded, hordes are killing everyone.  It could just as easily be a zombie film or an animal attack flick. Instead, it’s one of those nightmares that sees our own sweet tots turning on us.

Married couple Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and a pretty pregnant Beth (Vinessa Shaw) are on holiday, heading to the remote island Punta Hueca. Once there, they find only dusty children running about – nary an adult turns up as they comb the isle for lunch, a shower and a bed.

They find out soon enough that they are 1) stranded, and 2) screwed.

For the majority of the film’s running time, we simply follow Beth and Francis as they walk, then run, then hide in and among abandoned island buildings. This span is, at times, tedious, frustrating, and full of bad decision making – but this is a horror film, and those particular elements do generate tension.

Makinov’s deliberate pacing and unique, unnerving use of sound work well with the slight plot, wringing as much anxiety as possible out of the stranded couple’s predicament. Wisely, he sidesteps a lot of the pitfall of “killer children” films by keeping the wee ones’ dialogue to a minimum, letting their menacing stares and maniacal glee do their talking for them.

Francis and Beth, on the other hand, have plenty of screen time to make an impression. They offer believable chemistry, and Moss-Bachrach, in particular, animates his character’s internal struggle quite well. Shaw grows tiresome, but it’s hard to beat the presence of a pregnant lady to limit movement and ramp up tension.

Makinov pulls some punches Serrador was happy to land (God help me, I  miss the pinata), but the film remains effectively disconcerting, offering a decent new vision of murderous children that’s worth a look.

Or, you could head to Netflix, where the dated but superior original is available on DVD.

3 stars (out of 5)