Hail, hail Weston Razooli, who has made quite possibly the coolest debut feature to screen at this year’s Cannes with Riddle of Fire, a micro-budget kids’ fantasy film that drew spontaneous applause at its premiere at the Théâtre Croisette.
Imagine a feature-length episode of Stranger Things directed by Harmony Korine and you’re somewhere in the ballpark of this strange and charming film, the kind of supremely imaginative work that makes you wonder what the director could do with stacks of studio cash behind him. Then again, the lo-fi nature of the exercise is part of the charm.
The plot concerns three kids on a quest to find blueberry pie for one of their moms, who is laid up in bed with a cold, so she’ll give them the password to play on a new video console they pilfered from a nearby warehouse. When a sinister-looking cowboy nabs the last of the eggs from the local supermarket, they’re drawn into a dangerous mission to retrieve them from a band of outlaws called the Enchanted Blade gang.
Razooli does a great job making rural Wyoming look like a Legend of Zelda-like fantasy landscape (it was actually shot in Utah), peppering the soundtrack with strange courtly music and video-game sound effects to establish a unique tone. The kids themselves are a blast, given some hilariously hard-boiled dialogue to chew on as they do battle with the film’s adults, and the action spills into increasingly PG-13 territory.
In case it all gets a bit twee, the arrival of a new girl to the gang supplies some unexpectedly emotional beats to the story: Petal is the daughter of the gang’s leader, Anna-Freya, a witch who keeps her crew members under her spell to do her bidding. Anna-Freya loves her daughter but clearly comes from the tough-love school of parenting – “She’s a great mum, but she’s not really a good mum if you know what I mean?” says Petal – and her character lends unexpected depth to a story that is mostly in pursuit of a good time.
Is Riddle of Fire intended for kids or adults? We’re not really sure, but Razooli’s film has got future cult written all over it.