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Riddle of Fire is currently available for VOD rental or purchase. Blu-ray release coming later this year.


DIRECTED BY: Weston Razooli

FEATURING: Phoebe Ferro, Charlie Stover, Skyler Peters, Charles Halford, Lio Tipton, Lorelei Olivia Mote

PLOT: Three miscreant kids search for a speckled egg they need to get the password to the TV, encountering a real-life witch on their quest.

Still from RIDDLE OF FIRE (2023)

COMMENTS: Riddle of Fire plays out like one of those kid-centered live-action Disney movies of the 70s, if the tykes were foul-mouthed (but still endearing) thieves, and the director was a drugged-out hippie. Tomboy Alice, chaste love-interest Hazel, and young Jodie (whose incongruously adult one-liners are all duplicated in subtitles in case you have trouble understanding his adoewabul accent) have no idea how good they have it on summer vacation, riding around big sky country on dirtbikes with paintball guns and no responsibilities. Preferring air-conditioned adventures, they hatch an elaborate plan to steal a next-generation video game console, but find their summer ruined when they discover mom has password-protected the smart TV. Suffering from a cold that will soon send her into a NyQuil coma, mom agrees to allow them to play for two hours if they bring her a blueberry pie. This sets the trio off on a quest which proves increasingly complicated, as they cannot obtain the pastry without first completing a series of mini-quests, culminating in the search for the film’s big MacGuffin, a lucky speckled egg. Unfortunately, the last carton of such eggs falls into the hands of a gruff “huntsman,” who also serves as hired muscle for a cult of taxidermist witches (who have a whole Mandy-for-kids vibe going on).

Shot on 16mm film (a choice that reinforces the antique feel) in summer-green mountain forests, this “neo-fairy tale” is an American folktale for the Playstation age. The landscape is speckled with red amanita toadstools, suggesting the permeating prevalence of witchcraft, while also nodding to the drug culture. The three (later four) moppets are all likable, despite being pint-sized hoodlums; their “us against the adult world” solidarity makes them easy to root for, and their loyalty to their sick mom softens their brattiness. The script, which incorporates video game tropes as naturally as fairy tale ones, is tightly constructed, leaving little to chance in its intricate web.

Although it mostly plays as a kiddie adventure flick of the type common in the 70s and into the 80s, Riddle of Fire puts oddball spins on the material whenever it can. Even taking the magical realist element of “The Enchanted Blade Gang” out of the picture, the tale has the feeling of a childhood memory: half-experienced, half-imagined, with off-key notes fluttering about. When the children steal their console, they celebrate by dancing around the prize singing a song that’s half old English nursery rhyme, half magical ritual. They sometimes slip words like “yon” or phrases like “that rather ghastly, chilling doll” into their casual conversations. Things really get strange in their 4 A.M. trip to “The Hall of Fortunes,” a mixture between a roadhouse bar and post-apocalyptic trading post where all the adults drink 40 ounces, and the only other kid in sight is painted blue and holding a trident. Since they’re unfamiliar with the adult world, the kids don’t have a sense of how terribly wrong this entire setup is; it’s a hallucination based on a hazy understanding of what grown-ups do when they’re not around.

The irony of these children undergoing the magical adventure of a lifetime in a quest to play in a much less imaginative digitized world is delicious. Somehow, we actually celebrate with the little reprobates when they achieve their goal of sitting on their butts and clicking buttons all day, which is a testament to how much we buy in to the crazy premise debuting director Razooli conjures here. Riddle of Fire is full of stylistic and cultural references, but somehow still feels largely sui generis; it will be fascinating to see where the newly minted auteur goes from here.


“… both grounded and fantastical, sweet and sad, a beautiful snapshot of childhood where kids are allowed to be weird little gremlins with opulent tastes and bad attitudes.”–Mary Beth McAndrews, Dread Central (contemporaneous)

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