Hannah Strong


Riddle of Fire – first-look review

Three precocious kids set out on a quest for blueberry pie in Weston Razooli's throwback adventure film.

On a bright summer’s day in rural Wyoming, three young tearaways are up to mischief. Calling themselves the Three Immortal Reptiles, Hazel (Charlie Stover), younger sibling Jodie (Skyler Peters) and their friend Alice (Phoebe Ferro) are dirt-biking, paint balling, balaclava-clad chaos goblins, who we first meet carrying out an audacious heist to steal a games console from a local warehouse. Returning to Hazel and Jodie’s home for a delicious feast and day of gaming, they’re immediately foiled by the discovery that their mother has put a password on the television. She agrees to lift it for two hours, on the condition the children run down to the local bakery and retrieve for her a blueberry pie.

Always game for an adventure, the Reptiles set off on their bikes – but it turns out the local pie mistress has been felled by the same cold that is keeping Hazel and Jodie’s mother in bed. They’ll simply have to make the pie themselves, and in the process come up against strange magic and unexpected allies and enemies, as their quest leads them far from home.

Taking cues from the likes of The Goonies and Stand By Me, with a healthy dose of tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons thrown in for good measure, Weston Razooli’s feature debut celebrates the imagination and possibility that exists in childhood, when something as simple as running an errand for a parent is elevated to mythical quest status. Although ostensibly set in the modern world, Riddle of Fire utilises Kodak 16mm to create a dreamlike, hyper-saturated and vintage aesthetic, which works in combination with a folksy original score to create a sense of a world out of time. The kids might be keen video gamers and use their smartphones as spy cams, but they’re scrappy and tough talking – a sweeter version of the kids that inhabit the films of Harmony Korine.

There’s a harkening back to the type of childhood that existed before the advent of technology, in which kids would bike through the wilderness inventing their own worlds to occupy themselves, but Razooli doesn’t seem interested in preaching that tech is an inherently evil thing. The children actually seem to strike a happy balance between their inventive adventures and their near-worship of their pilfered video game console.

Undoubtedly the film works because of its three charismatic young leads, who are precocious but never tiresome (Skyler Peters, whose dialogue is sometimes subtitled as he speaks with a very sweet lisp, is the youngest and obvious standout, with a seemingly inherent gift for comedic timing). Well-cast too is Lio Tipton as Anna Flora Hollyhock, a self-styled witch who the kids cross on their travels, but the film really belongs to its young leads – particularly in a dance sequence set to Player’s 1977 ear worm Baby Come Back.

Yet scraping in just under two hours in length, Riddle of Fire does feel a little overlong – the third-act climax seems to last forever – and it’s not difficult to imagine a shorter edit which would perhaps feel a little punchier. But this is a minor complaint in the face of an auspicious feature debut for Razooli (who also edited the film), which feels like a breath of fresh air in the age of unending adaptations and IP. Razooli clearly has ambition and imagination, and this simple but sweet fairytale is an exuberant adventure with charm to spare.

Published 27 May 2023

Tags: Directors’ Fortnight

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