Film Review – Riddle of Fire

Riddle of Fire

Riddle of Fire

Writer/director Weston Razooli goes for a deliberately whimsical tone with his feature length debut, Riddle of Fire (2023). Although the setting is in present day Wyoming, the tone and textures are reminiscent of a magical fantasy-world. In fact, the film is described as a “neo-fairytale,” in which characters on the fringe of society take part in an adventure that seems oddly enchanted. This is a very specific approach. Viewers will either dig what Razooli is doing or will be completely turned off. There were moments where things got a little too twee, a little too precious for its own good. And yet, I admired the ambition on display. It’s not easy making this kind of movie, but Razooli and company never wavered from their convictions.

The biggest positive is the viewpoint of our protagonists. We meet three young kids – Alice (Phoebe Ferro) along with brothers Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters). Their day is filled with mischievousness, riding around town on their motorbikes, shooting paintball guns, and getting into all kinds of trouble. To get permission from Hazel and Jodie’s mother (Danielle Hoetmer) to play video games (which the kids stole, by the way), the three are tasked with retrieving a blueberry pie to help her get over a cold. This quest proves to be more difficult than they anticipated. The main narrative thread focuses on the three doing whatever they can to get the pie, even if it means stealing the ingredients and baking it themselves.


I never rode a motorcycle, or carried a paintball gun, or baked a pie of any kind. But through Alice, Hazel, and Jodie, Razooli has touched on something true to life. When outside of the house and left to their own devices, kids can let their imaginations fill up their time. I remember riding around the neighborhood with friends, trying to do tricks on our bikes, or jumping over a pothole pretending it was as big as the Grand Canyon. If we made a turn outside of our usual street, it felt as though we were entering some undiscovered country. We created a world all our own, where the smallest obstacle was treated as a matter of epic proportions. When you’re a kid, anything is possible. That is the kind of sentiment the narrative aims for. 

Stylistically, Razooli’s direction lends to the fantastical nature. Jake L. Mitchell’s 16mm cinematography creates a washed out aesthetic where colors appear faded. There’s a constant hazy glow, especially when the sun is shining. The visuals have a timeless quality, as though it were imprinted on parchment paper. The font used for title cards, as well as the accompanying music, all contribute to a heightened, old-world palette. Just in terms of the surface and audio elements, it felt like stepping into some kind of renaissance fair, except everyone is dressed in modern clothing and using modern technology.

In terms of look and feel, Riddle of Fire has shades of Wes Anderson, particularly Moonrise Kingdom (2012). The two share similar characteristics: Kids on grand odysseys set primarily in nature, the mix between reality and artifice, the compositions, and the sly dry humor. Razooli’s work isn’t as polished as Anderson’s, but that might be part of its charm. There are instances where characters flub a line, snapping us out of the immersion. But credit should go to Razooli and the actors for simply skipping these missteps and moving on. Any other filmmaker would’ve cut them out or reshot the scene. Razooli keeps them in as a sort of badge of honor.


Although the film has plenty of positives, there are also factors holding it back. The narrative structure is thin and straight-lined, with characters having one-dimensional motivations. With a runtime of nearly two full hours, there wasn’t enough weight in the story to make it feel substantial. This is mainly due to our antagonists: a group of poachers who also happen to be a coven. The group is led by Anna-Freya (Lio Tipton), who is described as a witch. Anna-Freya uses her powers of the occult to control the other members: John (Charles Halford), Marty (Razooli), Suds (Rachel Browne), and Kels (Andrea Browne). Anna-Freya also has a daughter, Petal (Lorelei Olivia Mote) whom our three heroes befriend. So how exactly do a bunch of kids get mixed up with these hooligans? The reason – and I’m not kidding – entails a whole plotline regarding speckled eggs.

I’m not sure if the poachers/coven are meant to be a figment of the main trio’s imaginations or if they really are mystical beings. It’s up in the air if they are only illegal hunters or if they can actually manipulate people with mind control. Whatever the case maybe, I never bought it. I was never made to care about any of the characters, nor believe that the kids would ingratiate themselves in their circle. Alice, Hazel, and Jodie might be low key troublemakers, but they don’t appear to be dumb. The further along things went the deeper they put themselves in danger, which just didn’t ring as plausible. Honestly, are these kids so desperate to play video games that they would put themselves in harm’s way? Granted, there were some funny bits – Charles Halford gets a lot of laughs with his physical brand of comedy. But overall, the dynamic between the kids and the poachers/coven was messy and uneven.

When Riddle of Fire centers on the kids, it really works. When it sinks into the mechanics of the plot – along with the inclusion of villains – it stumbles. I still mostly liked what was given and will end up giving a recommendation. But admittedly, this is an acquired taste and will only adhere to those willing to go along with its quirkiness. 




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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