Introducing: Carlson Young

With her feature debut, THE BLAZING WORLD, the Texas-born actress & filmmaker wants to let audiences know who she is.

By Andrew Crump · @agracru · October 22, 2021, 2:45 PM EDT

Every horror fan has their own story about how the genre got its hooks in them. Some stayed up late watching Tales From the Crypt while their parents slept. Some made their acquaintance with slashers on VHS passed down by their horror nut friends. Some caught the mid-2010s horror wave and have ridden the crest ever since. Carlson Young made her path by walking: She's appeared in shows like True Blood and Grimm, played Brooke Maddox in MTV's Scream series, and made a short film, The Blazing World, in 2018 which premiered at that year's run of the Sundance Film Festival.

For the 2021 edition, she premiered her feature adaptation of the short, an expansive, dreamy melting pot of her cauldron of influences. Apart from the running time upgrade, Young scored a major win in getting Udo Kier to play her villain, Lained, a sinister entity who lures Young's protagonist, Margaret, to an alternate dimension for the opportunity to rescue her sister, dead from her youth but possibly trapped in Lained's domain. What you see in The Blazing World will depend on your own reference points for horror, and for fantasy, Young's other love alongside horror, but it's the film's sheer scope that draws both sides together.

FANGORIA spoke with Young on the heels of Sundance '21 to unpack the festival, the time and energy that went into reinterpreting The Blazing World in long-form, the unexpected hurdles thrown in the movie's production by the COVID-19 pandemic, and, of course, the incredible joy of working with Kier:

So the original short was in 2018. Between now and then, were you thinking about how you wanted to turn this into a feature, or was there something in between the short and the feature that was on your mind first?

I always wanted to make it into a full-length feature, and I always had the skeleton outlined to do that. But I knew that I had to make it into a short first in order for anyone to let me direct it. So I did that, and then I had the script in my hand in 2018 when I went to Sundance, a very rough script, but I always had the intention to make it into a feature, a bigger story, exploring that same character and her family. The next two years were a very intense scripting and development process, of getting it bare bones and really finding the visuals that I wanted to emphasize, and scale it up as big as I could. It took that long! It was a long cooking process, not super long, I guess, in comparison to how long it takes to make these things happen, but every nook and cranny of that two years was spent getting this going.

The first word that came to mind after I saw the film was "ambitious." So this sounds like three years of ambition stewing, leading up to this moment.

I keep hearing that, too. My attitude has been "go big or go home." I wanted to show people what I like, what my sensibilities are, what kind of stories I like; I wanted to make something big and visual and poppy, not a quiet kind of script. And we did it. And then COVID came along! We shot this in August and had a limited crew, all of that. So it was; it was definitely a grossly underestimated amount of blood, sweat, and tears.

No one's predicting a pandemic at any point. That wasn't on anybody's 2020 bingo card.

Yeah. And I'm excited to keep going. I can't wait for the next one, and the next, and if it's just 10% less stress, that'll be amazing.

To hear you talk about The Blazing World almost sounds like it's your way of introducing yourself to people. Not that this is the first thing you've done - of course, you had the short first - but this feels like you're saying to people, "This is me, and these are the things that influence me."

Absolutely. I've obviously come up as an actor and worked on different new TV sets over the years, and I've always been at the mercy of what other people will let me do. And so, The Blazing World is very much a creative mission statement. It's the first time I've ever been able to put my creative identity on anything. So I really wanted to paint that picture, wear my influences on my sleeve. I also think if people look hard enough, they'll see a lot of my own DNA. But yeah, I've been doing this for a long time in an acting capacity. I wanted to show people who I am as an artist.


From moment to moment, I got vibes of Poltergeist, The Exorcist, del Toro, Jim Henson. The Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland component felt big to me. I think horror is the kind of genre that, maybe more than others, builds on itself. It's very self-aware and self-critical. I think every filmmaker in horror does show their influences, or when their influences show, they really show. So when you were making this, did you pause along the way and think to yourself, "Let me pull it back"? You want it to be you, but you also want people to know what you like.

Sure. I took the liberty of letting my freak flag fly, because technically we're in [Margaret's] mind for a couple of movies. So naturally, things would be entering and leaving, and entering and leaving, that maybe she's seen before or read before. There are little pieces in her subconscious that are nodding to something, but then have their own resonance and visual identity in her mind. So yeah, it took a long time to make those cuts and snips, and then we had to throw, to a certain degree, some of it out of the window because I had to rewrite a lot of things to do it for the pandemic. [laughs]

There were a couple of things where I was just like, "Oh, we don't have A, B, or C, so….throw Udo [Kier] at the bar! [laughs] There was a lot of that. We just did on the day, because we didn't have any other way to get it. It's funny, but horror is, of course, self-referential and self-aware and builds on itself, but what's interesting is I tried to incorporate a lot of fantasy elements, which are even more referential. I don't think people fully get that. When I was writing through Udo Kier's character, Lained, I was riffing on Bluebeard, the Margaret Cavendish era, 1600s, and I was pulling from ancient folklore that I'd read, and Jungian psychology, and trying, like the proper witch that I am, to make this little stew of things I love, and that takes you on a psychedelic journey. This girl is on a journey towards forgiveness, and acceptance more than anything else, which takes her to some really dark places in her head.

Udo feels like such a get for this movie. I've loved his work since forever. I think the first thing I saw him in was Blade, and I thought to myself, "This is a guy I'm going to watch for the rest of my life." Was that a victory lap for you, when you knew he was going to be there?

Oh yeah. I wrote it for him, number one. While I was writing the script, I was watching The Kingdom, the Lars von Trier mini-series from the '90s. He plays Åge Krüger, the son of the devil, and he is literally birthed out of his mother, the full-size Udo Kier head coming out with this little tiny gross, demon baby body.

Peak Udo Kier.

Yeah! And it was Åge Krüger that made me say to myself, "I gotta write this dude this role." When we sent it to him, his manager called within a couple of days and said, "He loves it, and he'd like to meet you in Palm Springs." I was like, "Oh. My. God! Yes!" So we met, and I talked to him, and we talked about art, and he was like, "Okay, I'm down."

And the rest is history.

And the rest is history! And that on March 5th, a week before the world shut down.

So you wrote that part for Udo, but do you feel like his presence alone shaped the movie?

I kept telling producers, "Udo Kier, if you know, you know." But I kept having to tell other people that he contextualizes the whole movie. He contextualizes everything about it, and the space that it exists in as well.

Was there almost a need on your part to pull him back? You want Udo in your movie, so you don't want to say to him, "Hang on, go over there, don't be in the movie." At the same time, is there a halfway point between his mythic status and what you're trying to say about yourself as an artist?

I had a field day in the edit. There was a lot of cutting for that performance. I like when he gets flamboyant; I thought that worked and also spoke to the surrealism and the film's dreamscape. All of these characters are very bizarre, especially the deeper we go into [Margaret's] subconscious. You wouldn't believe the footage that I have that's not in the movie.

I caught an interview you did during Sundance where you brought up trauma. That word's getting used more and more in conversation about horror, which makes sense because every horror movie is about trauma. For a movie like this that's so directly about trauma, how do you prevent that intention from overwhelming the craft? There's a lot in this movie that has to happen to meet the criteria you've set for yourself: The surrealism, the fantastical, the phantasmagoria. Did you try to keep that intention beneath the surface so that it didn't overtake your craftsmanship?

Yeah, definitely. That was a big part of the two-year script process: Learning a lot about the psychology of trauma and the neuroscience of it, and where it is stored in the brain, and the fact that trauma doesn't have a sense of time, so it's inherently disorienting. The more I learned about trauma, the more it took me into an extremely introspective and self-reflective place, where I was suddenly dealing with all of my own shit, and figuring out why that was.

Every horror film aims to approach trauma. For me, I was interested in starting in trauma and ending in a reframe of trauma. Look at a movie like The Babadook, and the way that film ends, and the gorgeous metaphor of grief that it is, where trauma is something that you tend to. It's always there, and you have to feed it. I wanted to say something slightly different about trauma, which is that you can make a two-degree shift, and you don't have to repeat that broken neural pathway. It's a choice. What Margaret is doing is retracing a broken neural pathway from her childhood, one that is keeping her in this intense depression.

So first and foremost, I got a lot of psychoeducation of trauma, and I went to a lot of trauma therapy myself, and I learned as much as I could about it. The more I learned about it, the more in love with the horror genre I fell, and the more Margaret's journey made sense to me, and the more Udo Kier made sense to me, because his character thrives on Margaret retracing that old neuropathway, which isn't serving her anymore but it's keeping him alive. I wanted to use images to say things instead of words, so the script is sparse.

It's a story that couldn't be told well without heavy emphasis on the imagery, then, and that's where you put your priority?

Yeah, absolutely. I was watching silent films as preparation for this. I wanted dialogue to be a last resort.

I may be reading into this, but it almost sounds like pre-movie, you liked horror, but during production you developed more of an affinity for it?

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. The love affair evolved significantly and with fantasy, too. I can't say "horror" without the fantasy, too, the mythology, the symbolism of fantasy with horror...I love that stuff.

Is that where you'll be taking yourself in whatever comes next?

I'd certainly like to. I'm open, and reading, and writing, and trying to figure out what's next. I do have a script that's cooked and ready to go that is, in some ways, the spirit baby of Blazing World, but it's kind of a middle school horror. Horror fantasy is the part of film that I really love and understand. So I hope to continue to refine that.

The Blazing World is now streaming, click below to watch: