I’ll preface this to say that this was one of my most anticipated films of Sundance and went in with high hopes as horror-fantasy films are my jam. I’ve not read the seminal work by Margaret Cavendish for which the film gets its namesake from but the premise of a womans exploration of an alternate dimension had my interest piqued and the imagery released evoked De Toro, Tarsem and other imaginative minds in the genre.
The film starts in the past as we see a pair of sisters playing outside their massive suburban home only for one to witness her father abusing their mother, immediately followed by her sister falling in a swimming pool with no one around to save her. The scene is stark, even in its technicolor beauty, and sets up the trauma that Margaret embodies through the film.
In that same opening scene we are introduced to a black hole and a man (Udo Kier) waving to her and inviting her to come with him into the unknown. To escape. The set-up was exactly what I wanted and expected from the film but then we quickly enter present day. She’s obsessed with the possibility that her sister still exists and was taken into another dimension and is trapped there. She reads books and watches a farfetched TV show about “the other side” and remains fixated on the idea of something more than our real world.
She’s brought back to her childhood home with the news that her parents are selling their home. We take a sidestep, or misstep, with a drug induced excursion with her hipster friends that felt overly long and unnecessary to get to a lengthier running time. During this time she breaks all of the horror movie rules; she does drugs, she has sex, and follows a baddie into the woods and into another dimension.
We are given some quick exposition that she will have to fight for or convince four demons to give her keys to masks that could save her sister’s life. This begins the main crux of the film which kicks off nearly an hour into the film. At this point, the audience is absorbed into the imagery but has not a single care for the characters or their actions. When there is violence between her parents, it feels like a plot device without any emotions.
It’s not to say that the film is a bore, but you will find yourself 10 steps ahead of the film and mostly hanging around for the gorgeous imagery and score which are all A+ and reminded me or Tarsem’s The Fall. Like that film, there is some suspect use of CGI but it mostly works and given its limited budget it’s not too distracting.
As Margaret completes her tasks the real and fantasy worlds begin to merge and she finds solace that she has been seeking waking up back in the film’s first modern scene. It’s a moment that is both confusing and confounding as we are treated to an ending that seems to show a level of forgiveness towards her parents that doesn’t quite add up.
There is plenty to enjoy but viewers might find that missing emotional core leaves them feeling a bit cold. The film has certainly put Carlson Young as a “must-watch” filmmaker and one that I believe will be given a proper budget in the near future.