I adore Twin Peaks. I know that is, at least in film student circles, a passé statement. But the dark charm of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s truly seminal television show is something that I think about nearly once a day. Sometimes more. The same is true for George Baron, writer, director and star of The Blue Rose.
Premiering at FrightFest 2023, The Blue Rose is a surrealist detective thriller, doused in sultry fifties iconography. Two young wannabe detectives Lilly (Olivia Scott Welch) and Dalton (George Baron) investigate the grizzly murder of the husband to surrealist painter Sophie (Nikko Austen Smith). However, what at first seems like an open-and-shut case spirals into a nightmarish frenzy in which the duo experiences their worst nightmares.
In reality, The Blue Rose functions as a montage of scenes Baron enjoyed filming much more than I enjoyed watching. Baron confuses nonsensicality with meaning, slapping on subversion after subversion until the film twists itself into a knotted mess. The end of the film is difficult to get through, with an ambiguous ending that looks more like a writer’s ‘get out of jail free card’ rather than a thought-out denouement.
Now, it may be clear why I brought up Twin Peaks at the beginning. Baron is clearly inspired by Lynch. The plot is very Mulholland Drive while the visual style reeks of Blue Velvet. There are even multiple name-based easter eggs alluding to Twin Peaks, such as Audrey and Norma. However, The Blue Rose, this title also a clear Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me nod, steps over the line from pastiche into parody. Lynch’s work is pastiche enough as it is!
Take the scene where Dalton and Lilly go to a seedy, neon-lit jazz bar. They are looking for jazz singer Catherine Christianson (Glüme Harlow) who may have a link to the murder case. Sound familiar? If that hasn’t jogged your memory, Catherine looks distinctly like Isabella Rossellini. The patrons of the bar are all donned in white masks, those plastic ones you can buy in bulk from a costume shop. This feels more GCSE drama than feature film. Dalton sidles up to the bar to harvest information, inevitably leading to a half-hearted The Shining tribute. The bartender is even called Lloyd.
Meanwhile, Lilly watches Catherine, looking up at her in ecstasy. Baron is going for that Lynchian moment of emotional potency. Think of Betsy (Naomie Harris) and Rita (Laura Harring) in club Silencio or Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) watching Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini) perform. Sadly, it isn’t earned. The amateurish design makes the moment, again, feel more parody than pastiche. So, when Lilly’s eyes unexplainably begin to bleed at the end of the scene, the feeling is more one of annoyance than horror.
That being said, what Baron is trying to pull off is no easy feat. Lynch’s works rely on trust. He asks the watcher to go with him and on a journey which does not conform to any sort of standard. I can’t blame Baron for failing to pull this off, it’s a mean feat that has no instructions. Baron’s attempt is earnest, casting any ironic winks or nudges off, despite its irritating practice.
When Baron steps outside of the Lynchian mode, there are moments that work. The rear projection in the driving scenes is a nice touch. Meanwhile, some scenes have a suggestion of tension. The scene where Dalton and Lilly meet Norma Steele (Danielle Bisutti) achieves a sense of discomfort.
I don’t want to shoot down Baron. Any fellow Lynch fan is a friend of mine. Plus, this is his first feature. That is an achievement in its own right! But, in trying to replicate Lynch, Baron sets the bar far too high. It’s like going straight to the final level in a video game. You are more than welcome to try but don’t expect anybody to patch you up with sympathies when you inevitably fail.
FrightFest 2023 ran from 24th-28th August. If you'd like to stay updated on upcoming events, like their Halloween mini-fest at the end of October, go to their website, or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor