Recovering a password has never been as elaborate or entertaining as it is in Riddle of Fire, which had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest 2023 this week. In the film, a trio of badass kids steal a yet-to-be-released video game console, get it home, but run into a problem. Mom has password-protected the TV. All they need to do for Mom to give up the password is go buy a blueberry pie.
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Written and directed by Weston Razooli, Riddle of Fire has a very harmless, childlike setup, but it’s much more than that. The first clue comes before the titles as a young girl delivers a poem, setting the stage for an epic tale of fantasy adventure. The second is when the three kids in question show up riding dirt bikes, wearing ski masks, and carrying paintball guns. And third is that, when the bakery is out of blueberry pie, the adventure takes a whole new twist.
Though the film’s brand of kid adventure feels like an homage to films like The Goonies, Stand by Me, and The Monster Squad, Razooli is speaking a whole different language than those movies. These kids are ruthless, smart, and sometimes need their words to be subtitled. There’s Alice (Phoebe Ferro), the de facto leader of the group, bravest and quickest on her feet. There’s Hazel (Charlie Stover), a fast-talking crack shot with a soft spot for Alice. Then there’s Jodie (Skyler Peters), Hazel’s little brother, who has the most eloquent things to say, even if you can’t always understand them. Together, the trio form a gang that feels somehow completely out of another era, despite their use of modern technology.
As the gang continues their quest for the pie, they meet an evil group of poachers led by Anna-Freya (Lio Tipton). Anna has some sort of weird, otherworldly control over her group, as does her defiant daughter Petal (Lorelei Olivia Mote). Soon, Petal teams up with Alice, Hazel, and Jodie to complete their quest, adding a whole new, supernatural element to the already fantastical feeling story.
Not everything about Riddle of Fire fits. There are several awkward edits and asides, more than a few uncomfortable situations, and the fantasy poems and Arthurian allusions often feel a little forced. Nevertheless, it’s all so damned endearing, you can’t help but adore it. Very quickly you latch onto these kids and their pure, unfaltering desire to play video games, and you just go along for the ride. Things often reach ridiculous levels of borderline parody but Razooli, who co-stars as a member of the poacher gang, makes sure that you just keep cheering for these kids.
And cheer you will because the thing Riddle of Fire does best is capture the innocence and freedom of childhood. A time when everything was an adventure, nothing could ever go wrong, and your friends were everything. It makes you feel like a child yourself and is simply a blast to watch.
Riddle of Fire had its world premiere last month at the Cannes Film Festival before having its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest 2023. It’ll be released in early 2024.
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