Features Live Action Movies

Riddle of Fire

Director – Weston Razooli – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m


Two siblings and their friend get caught up in a quest through the great hills and woods of Wyoming on their bikes to find a speckled egg so they can bake the boys’ sick mother a blueberry pie – premieres exclusively on the Icon Film Channel from Monday, May 6th for 30 days and is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 7th

Wyoming. Young siblings Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie A’Dale (Skyler Peters) along with their slightly older friend Alice (Phoebe Ferro) break into the Otomo warehouse to steal a videogame console so they can play on the TV during the Summer holidays. Alas, they’ve reckoned without the two boys’ mother (Danielle Hoetmer) password protecting the TV. She currently has the worst cold she has ever had and isn’t going to relent on the password for the foreseeable future – it’s a beautiful day, and she wants them outside enjoying themselves, not cooped up in the house – unless the kids go to the store and get her a blueberry pie, the one thing that would make her feel better.

So the three kids set out for the local store on their pushbikes, but on arrival find the place has run out of blueberry pies and the cook is off sick (perhaps there’s a bug going around). No thanks to the store, who won’t give out the cook’s address, they work out where she lives from the background of a portrait photo and head over there, but her illness means she isn’t going to bake anything today. Unperturbed, and encouraged by the revelation that Alice often bakes at home with her mum, they cut a deal: if they can bring the cook something to make her feel better (what, exactly, isn’t specified – it’s up to their ingenuity), she will give them the recipe.

Once they’ve surmounted that hurdle – which doesn’t quite work out the way anyone expected – they head to a mart to buy the ingredients. All is going well until they try to buy eggs (the recipe requires one speckled egg). There is only one box left, and as they are about to pick it up, unsympathetic stranger John Redrye (Charles Halford) takes it from under their noses and refuses to let them have even one egg.

Redrye is preparing for a hunting trip with the Enchanted Blade Gang, basically highly focused, single parent Anna-Freya Hollyhock (Lio Tipton)and her hapless teenagers, son Marty (director Weston Razooli) and daughters Kels (Andrea Browne) and Suds (Rachel Browne). Anna-Freya plans to trap the deer known as the Prince of the Forest. Her small daughter Petal (Lorelei Olivia Mote) isn’t allowed to come along, but that doesn’t stop her stowing away in the car and sneaking off with them, running off on her own in the wilds where she encounters the other three kids who plan to steal the egg back from Redrye.

After one of the siblings fails to steal the egg from John Redrye’s abandoned campfire (he eats the food and drinks Redrye’s liquor, becoming intoxicated), the three kids wind up at a local tavern where the owner’s chicken Valentina may well provide our young heroes with their much needed, speckled egg… However, the tavern owner is a hard negotiator…

After taking far too long to get going in its first half hour, this is subsequently well paced and feels like a cottage industry production – the writer-director and his mates making a movie because (a) they love movies and (b) they have a good story to tell. The three (later four) kids are both winsome and cute, but not overly so. Smallest boy Skyler Peters mangles his dialogue, which would render it incomprehensible were it not for the smart decision to subtitle everything he says so you can follow it. This is a much better idea than replacing him with another kid, because his delivery and demeanour both possess a certain, undeniable charm. Equally captivating, once she appears to the other three in the forest, is Lorelei Olivia Mote. All four child characters are scripted as savvy in the way that kids often are in real life.

As for the adults, Enchanted Blade Gang leader Anna-Freya is a force to be reckoned with while John Redrye, not perhaps the smartest cookie on the block, is not someone to cross. The teenagers, particularly the son, are pretty gormless. The two brothers’ mum, although she only really appears in the framing story, is the sort of really nice mum that everyone wishes they had, not least Petal, whose experience of Anna-Freya as mum is completely the opposite.

Although the feel throughout is very North American, the overall sensibility is not unlike classic British children’s stories such as Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, in which children with a degree of nautical expertise have adventures in woods near and in boats on lakes. This switches boats for bikes to make the kids here feel something like the kids in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982), although Riddle of Fire is much less urban and far more rural: a true landscape movie.

It also has a curious, quasi-medieval feel – partly down to the typeface in the title and partly down to music which, in places, wouldn’t be out of place as background music for scenes in King Arthur’s court. Both Anna-Freya and the precocious Petal are skilled in sorcery, in much the same way that Merlin and Morgana are in Arthurian myth – an element that is morally neutral, but somehow part of the world in which this movie is set.

Although this is arguably a kids’ film, for an adult it’s highly enjoyable to watch and never insults the viewer’s intelligence. This is true of its attitude to children also; it portrays kids as problem-solving as they go, even if they have much to learn about the way relationships and the world itself works en route. Adults indulge in drinking and use of firearms, and the dialogue’s intermittent bad language is enough to earn the film a BBFC 12a certificate (i.e. no-one admitted under 12 unless accompanied by an adult). The adults are threatening to the kids, but never more than they need to be believable as villains, really no different to (for example) the wicked queen in the Disney animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), except of course that this is live action, which some might argue makes it more like real life.

The local scenery – the Great American Outdoors – is also an asset. The piece is contemporary, because occasionally mobile phones are used, but only minimally so, meaning that the kids are enjoying adventures in the woods without the need for technology everywhere they go (unless you count the bikes). There’s a freshness about the kids, the setting and the storytelling and, once it gets going, this is a little gem.

So, go and see it – and if you don’t have kids yourself, borrow some and take them with you. Few children’s films treat their target audience with the respect for them that this one does; it’s an enjoyable romp that’ll make you glad you made the effort. Although the film is streaming on the Icon Channel (details below), I personally would wait and take some kids to see it on a big, cinema screen – on which I was lucky enough to see it myself.

Riddle of Fire premieres exclusively on the Icon Film Channel from Monday, May 6th for 30 days and is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 7th

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