Riddle Of Fire


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Riddle Of Fire
"Told from a child’s point of view, immediate and haphazard, magical and unlikely."

Usually films about children are told from an adult’s point of view – a narrator looking back or an adventure described as an adult might imagine it. This film, which screened as part of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, is told from a child’s point of view, immediate and haphazard, magical and unlikely. Where it frustrates adult critics it will click perfectly with the under-12s, following as it does the different set of rules through which the world makes sense for children.

We first meet its young heroes, the three immortal reptiles Alice (Phoebe Ferro), Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters), when they are in the process of robbing a warehouse, outwitting a security guard to steal the latest video games console. A frantic chase follows, a glorious homecoming, and then abrupt disappointment when they discover that the boys’ mother has locked the television so they still can’t actually play their new games. She’s sick in bed, and no amount of bribery or sweetness will persuade her to give up the password. Eventually, they cut a deal. They can play on the console for two hours if they promise to go outside afterwards, but only after fetching her some comfort food, a blueberry pie from Celia’s bakery.

What sounds like a simple mission soon becomes complicated. One thing leads to another and before they know it the kids are stranded in a forest in the middle of nowhere, on the trail of a ‘woodsy bastard’ with a stolen egg, trying to evade the attention of a witch and watched over by a self-described fire fairy. As the brothers argue over whether or not Hazel wants to kiss Alice, and all three argue over whose fault their situation is, adults run around with guns, pursuing various illegal schemes, and childish scrapes become interwoven with very real danger.

Whimsical though it may be, there’s no conventional polish here. The dialogue runs somewhere close to mumblecore; Jodie is supplied with subtitles despite the fact that he’s speaking English. Lengthy speeches full of fantastical and exaggerated ideas are delivered in a haphazard way which suggests not so much a struggle to remember lines as an effort to impress others whilst figuring things out on the spot. Writer/director Weston Razooli understands the messiness of childhood, both psychologically and environmentally. The brothers’ home is covered in bits of lego and other scattered toys. The kids rampage around the house and their local area, helping themselves to whatever they can get away with, completely free of any sense of responsibility except towards one another, focused only on achieving their goals and escaping the consequences. That they get away with as much as they do is testament to the fact that the adults they encounter are similarly addled or simply unable to keep up.

It’s a hit and miss affair, like a breathless story told by a six-year-old which enthrals in places but meanders pointlessly in others. Key to engaging with it is accepting that these kids are still young enough for the whole world to be strange to them, so they simply take in their stride development which would cause adults to panic. The events which feel important to them are not necessarily those which seem most significant to viewers. Their own character arcs are out of sync with the apparent arc of the story. This gives the film an organic feeling which is sometimes charming, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes more apt to leave adult viewers watching with bemused expressions, not sure what’s expected of them.

With fresh, almost vérité-style cinematography which flatters nobody, the film feels like a response to decades of romanticised childhood tales. It’s sometimes sweet, but it doesn’t start from the assumption that children are sweet. Brusquely observant and darkly humorous, it’s a chaotic tale whose ability to please you will depend on how willing you are to let your illusions go and explore those of others. If nothing else, it should give the coming-of-age genre a much needed shake.

Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2023
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Three mischievous children on dirt bikes, armed with paint guns and cocky attitudes, launch an attack at a local warehouse, outwitting a security guard and 'liberating' the very latest video game console for themselves - but to make use of it, they need to figure out the password with which their mother has locked the TV.

Director: Weston Razooli

Writer: Weston Razooli

Starring: Lio Tipton, Weston Razooli, Charles Halford, Phoebe Ferro

Year: 2023

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: US

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