Wednesday 8 May 2024

Riddle of Fire (USA 2023: Dir Weston Razooli)

Do you remember when you were young, when the summers stretched out in endless days of carefree splendour, when you and your mates plundered your collective imaginations to create play stories that you adapted and constantly changed in response to what was happening around you?

Yeah, me neither, but Weston Razooli does and in his first meandering, witty and at times almost formless feature, he brings that childish sense of wonder to our screens.

In Ribbon, Wyoming, three young people - Alice (Phoebe Ferro), Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters) - going by the collective name of 'The Three Immortal Reptiles', break into a warehouse and liberate a brand new interactive video game. 

When they get it home and plug it in, they find out that the host TV has been passworded; and only Hazel and Jodie's mother (Danielle Hoetmer) knows what it is, but she's sick in bed. Mum does a deal with the kids; if they can bring her back a blueberry pie from the local store, she'll fess up with what they need.

But a simple task becomes effortlessly complicated. First the store has no pies; the baker is off sick, and a visit to her house for the recipe ends up in a quest for the ingredients, including a special egg. There's some stowing away, a trip to Magic Mountain and a run in with The Enchanted Blade Gang, led by Anna-Freya Hollyhock, an evil witch (Lio Tipton) and her daughter Petal, a forest sprite (Lorelei Mote).

The Three Immortal Reptiles
If all this sounds rather whimsical you bet it is, but the blissed out 16mm photography and the Sid and Marty Krofft style setup, not to mention fabulous performances from the three kids, make this one a real oddity. 

Granted at nearly two hours the shaggy dog story, which runs out of steam more than once, could do with a little grooming, but there's always something going on in the corners of the frame, and Ferro, Stover and Peters are fabulously natural (actually it feels like most of this was ad libbed). 

In fact Riddle of Fire has something of the feel of an early John Waters movie except that everyone keeps their clothes on and nobody licks dog shit. There's a certain knowingness that undercuts the charm here, and the inclusion of Riz Ortolani's rather out of place theme from Cannibal Holocaust supports this. 

Riddle of Fire will be released in UK cinemas on 7 June 2024.

Oh and you can play a Riddle of Fire shoot 'em up game over on Razooli's website here.

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