FrightFest 2023: The Blue Rose is a Triumphant Tribute to David Lynch

Image courtesy of FrightFest

There are a lot of Lynchian films out there. That means directors attempt to imitate the auteur’s movies or imbue their own films with a certain amount of nightmarish perplexity. As if plucked from a haunted subconsciousness, the memorable imitators understand Lynch’s genius and their characters’ forbidden desires and deepest regrets. They’re tormented by the madness of life and find peace in their dreams. George Baron is someone who, at only eighteen years of age, understands more about Lynch than most, and his new film spectacularly proves that there are Lynchian Films, and then there’s The Blue Rose.  

The Poster image for The Blue Rose, shows faces and settings in a blooming Blue Rose
Image Courtesy of FrightFest 2023/Clout PR

Whatever you think about Lynch’s filmography, there is someone else you know who just doesn’t get him. Some, like myself, think he’s a genius, while others would vehemently disagree. The Blue Rose was the first film I was drawn to while reading synopses for FrightFest and knowing immediately that the film was a love letter. The Blue Rose is a reference to Twin Peaks, and without going too far down the rabbit hole here, it was the rudimentary designation for the FBI agents assigned to paranormal cases. The presence of a pair of detectives covering an LA murder was only further indication of what I was hoping, and listing Peaks’ Ray Wise among the cast seemed like proof. While Twin Peaks cites the emergence of the project that initiated The Blue Rose task force in 1975, Baron takes us further back into the glamourous golden age of Hollywood’s 1950s, usurping the lore most may know from the famed television series by ardently predating it and setting this film noir in another city with strong ties to Lynch films.  

The Blue Rose starts with a murder most foul, as a gown-wearing ’50s housewife, Sophie Steele (Nikko Austen Smith), bakes pies for her husband until the day the pie’s strawberry red filling mixes with his. Fleeing to her sister’s house, Sophie blends in at a party that seemingly takes place in an ethereal space, where socialites feast on the sadness of others like garmonbozia, and we get the sense that the walls are harboring more than just a murderer.  

Danielle Bisutti, who takes on the role of Sophie’s sister Norma, suffers a tale of madness on the same level as her counterpart’s namesake in Sunset Boulevard. She’s truly an exciting character, though first presented as stiff and stoic when the audience meets her. Her performance becomes more disturbing throughout the film, as her manipulative prowess becomes haunting during a backstory reveal, then twisting, with the help of Baron’s creativity, into a boogeyman worth being afraid of. 

a woman in a white dress raises a knife in a hallway
Image courtesy of FrightFest

Assigned to the case, detectives Lilly and Dalton (Olivia Scott Welch and George Baron) arrive at the color-popping Barbie-esque suburban home of the Steeles, where they notice some peculiarities with minimal effort. On the Steele’s white rose bush in the front of the house, all the flowers have been painted blue, an ominous blue triangle has also been painted on the house, and a letter in the mailbox lays out the crime scene for them and is almost as good as a conviction. It isn’t long before they’re hot on the heels of their suspect, but the closer they get, the stranger everything becomes. 

As the focus of their investigation shifts, new faces become involved, including the Julee Cruise x Marilyn Monroe inspired Catherine Christianson, played extraordinarily by Glume Harlow, who sings at a nightclub filled with masked characters who seek to retain their Kubrickian anonymity. Harlow weaves a siren song of unfathomable desire into an intoxicating scene, captivating the viewer as much as the club’s audience. After entering the club, the detectives find themselves caught between reality and a dream world, with frightening visions beckoning them.  

Baron, who folks may recognize from the Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp miniseries, artfully maneuvers through the world of Lynch with a sophistication unmatched by anyone to date. He has so completely enveloped himself in the world of David Lynch that even the costuming of himself and Lilly, which is a bit on the Hardy Boys meets Nancy Drew side of things, feels like a proportionate suggestion that The Blue Rose is Lynch Jr. As it deviates from the expectation of the era. That’s not a dig by any measure, as I think Baron, who again is only eighteen years of age, has accomplished a feat those who’ve studied Lynch and his works have been unable to realize as fully.  

A man sitting in a pink convertable seen through the windshield
Image courtesy of FrightFest

Baron adds nuance, subtext, and a multiple viewing requirement to address its symbolism, some of which are nods borrowed from Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, and Blue Velvet as well. Those who believe in the genius of Lynch’s work will revel in the depth this young director has poured into the film, while those who have trouble interpreting Lynch may have an easier time testing the waters here. The Blue Rose is probably as accessible as a Lynchian film gets while staying true to the vivid and wild imagination of both visionary directors.  

I know I’ve been mainly ruminating on the unexpected talents of Baron in particular, but the rest of this ensemble is unbelievably talented. The young cast is absolutely electrifying. Meanwhile, Baron’s crew, particularly his cinematographer Blaine Dunkley, production designer Arae Webner, set decorator Brittany Brenner, and scenic artist Chanel Kaliski, will likely find themselves on much larger sets very soon. This level of detail and precision in their crafts helps The Blue Rose look like a much larger production. Yet, the costume artist, pivoting between a conservative ’50s look to black lingerie, transfixes the film with illustrated contradictions that help intertwine with The Blue Rose’s fantastic story. 

a woman in an olive dress stands mesmerised in a restaurant filled with red tables and masked patrons in The Blue Rose
Image courtesy of FrightFest

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few nitpicks I have on this one, some angles of shots I don’t quite understand, and so forth. Baron is still young and learning. However, as a first-time director, The Blue Rose is a knockout. If you’re a fan of Lynch, you’ll love this feast of a film. The Blue Rose is a visual odyssey and a nightmare of identity and character. It has some rough-around-the-edges moments, but ultimately, this trip through La La Land is worth taking.  

The Blue Rose held its world premiere at FrightFest on August 27. It is currently touring the festival circuit.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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