‘Riddle Of Fire’ Review: A Gorgeous Neo-Fairytale About Video Games And Blueberry Pie

Riddle of Fire

I often daydream of the perfect childhood, impossible to attain, but full of warm days and cool nights with friends during summer vacation. There’s nothing to worry about except acquiring the perfect snacks and staying out of trouble. Director and writer Weston Razooli realizes such a childhood with his feature film debut Riddle of Fire. The film exists at the intersection of the wry sense of humor of Diablo Cody and Wes Anderson and 1970s animated films like The Last Unicorn. It’s 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.

Alice (Phoebe Ferro) and brothers Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters) are three best friends having their best dirtbag kid summer in an idyllic rural town in the mountains. Surrounded by woods and dirt roads, the kids ride bikes and cause trouble, spending sunny days causing chaos and stealing new video game systems—here, it’s the OTOMO “Angel”—armed with paintball guns. Satisfied with their crimes, they settle in to play video games while consuming an opulent feast of all their favorite snacks. Truly they are having the best summer ever.

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But, when they discover Hazel and Jodie’s mom put a password on the TV to keep them from playing video games all day, they decide to go on a quest for her favorite blueberry pie to curry her favor. Thus begins an epic quest through the forest to get the right ingredients to bake the perfect pie to win mom’s approval to play video games. It’s perfect kid logic, which is why it’s so easy to fall into Razzoli’s version of whimsy. Even with the funny quips and stylized aesthetics, Razooli never shirks away from the danger of the situation as the three kids follow a group of poachers to get a special kind of speckled egg. They have no idea how unsafe they are, naively assuming that no one would hurt a kid, but Razooli always makes sure the audience is aware of that danger.

Along the way, the trio also meets Petal Hollyhock (Lorelei Olivia Mote), whose mother Anna-Freya (Lio Tipton) is the lead poacher and also perhaps a witch with unexplained mystical powers. This is mostly the real world, yes, but Razooli imbues Riddle of Fire with dashes of magical realism that keep it feeling like a contemporary fairytale perfect for a bedtime story rather than just another coming-of-age tale about love and loss. These are cool weirdo young kids, not archetypes meant to fit into perfect molds. Alice is a stylish tomboy who isn’t afraid to wrestle the boys and also bake with her mom. Hazel is constantly covered in dirt. Jodie sounds like the adolescent Boomhauer with an adult’s vocabulary. They have personality and charisma, but in a way that feels authentic and not like kids acting.

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Razooli uses the film’s production design to really offer a glimpse into his constructed world, which includes strange little devices that function as binoculars and cloud identifiers and the aforementioned video game system. Razooli dips into the realm of analog technology ala the 1980s to craft a world that contains echoes of things like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and other pieces of high fantasy. Plus everything is shot on 16mm which gives the film an inherent dreamy, hazy quality. While Riddle Of Fire never becomes full fantasy, it is constantly paying homage to its roots through aesthetics and score that Razooli compiled from various Soundcloud artists who create music in the genre “dungeon core”. Yes, I will be doing a deep dive into the genre immediately.

Riddle Of Fire‘s biggest stumbling block is its length as the story drags in the middle as more characters are added into the fray. Razooli has almost too much story to contain and while he eventually wrangles it all to deliver a satisfying ending, it takes a lot of time to get there. While the film is always gorgeous and the performances always entertaining, Riddle Of Fire meanders quite a bit, mimicking a dazed walk through the woods that’s always pleasant but feels a bit repetitive.

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Razooli crafts a kid’s perfect summer, complete with danger, romance, friendship, and a slice of delicious pie. While the film wears its influences on its sleeve, Riddle of Fire still feels wholly unique, especially with its precocious youths who aren’t afraid to smack an adult and steal their liquor. I couldn’t stop smiling watching this film and I fell in love with Razooli’s conceptions of the fantastical as something that quietly lingers in our world, humming through the trees and the fireflies on warm summer nights. This is the film to watch if you want to laugh, smile, and reminisce about your own summertime shenanigans on the cusp of becoming a teenager.



‘Riddle of Fire’ is a beautiful snapshot of childhood where kids are allowed to be weird little gremlins with opulent tastes and bad attitudes.



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