Riddle of Fire Turns a Simple Errand into a Captivating Fairy Tale

Image courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

I have to be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect from Riddle of Fire. The plot synopsis I got was pretty vague, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. However, there was one thing that made me confident the film would be great. It’s distributed by Yellow Veil Pictures, and if you’re not familiar with that name, you should be. They specialize in offbeat, boundary-pushing genre cinema, and they’re fantastic. They gave us some of the best under-the-radar movies of 2023, like Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation and Falcon Lake, Despite not knowing much about Riddle of Fire, I was intrigued as hell. I just had to review this film, and after finally getting the chance to watch it, I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed.

Riddle of Fire was written and directed by Weston Razooli, and it stars Lio Tipton, Charles Halford, Charlie Stover, Skyler Peters, Phoebe Ferro, and Lorelei Olivia Mote. In the movie, three young children—Hazel, his brother Jodie, and their friend Alice—are asked by Hazel and Jodie’s mother to buy a blueberry pie at a local bakery. It’s a pretty simple request, but it leads to an adventure the likes of which these kids have never experienced. They encounter an evil witch and her mindless disciples, a special hen that lays speckled eggs, and a few other less-than-savory characters. Through it all, their bond becomes stronger than ever.

Right from the very first scene, Riddle of Fire had me absolutely hooked. For starters, this movie is saturated with a fairy-tale atmosphere of magic and wonder. Writer/director Weston Razooli does an excellent job of making sure everything in the film contributes to that vibe in some way. For instance, the score is ethereal and otherworldly, and there are a number of moments when the characters speak in idioms that feel like they come straight out of a storybook.

My favorite weird line comes early in the movie when the kids go to a store to get some dry ice. One of them suggests asking the owner for help, but he doesn’t say it like that. Instead, he says, “Fetch the proprietor,” and even though it’s just three words, it immediately makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another world.

Three kids being mischievous
Image courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

Similarly, Riddle of Fire was shot on 16mm film, which contributes to the unearthly atmosphere.  16mm film doesn’t give us the sharp, pristine look we’re used to from big Hollywood blockbusters. Instead, the picture is a lot softer, and that imbues the movie with an almost dream-like vibe.

All that being said, a movie like Riddle of Fire can’t get by on atmosphere alone. It’s a very character-driven story. For it to truly work, the characters have to be great. And luckily, Hazel and his crew are totally up to the task. To be frank, the actors who play these kids aren’t nearly as good as, say, the cast of Stranger Things or Andy Muschietti’s It, but the writing more than makes up for that deficiency.

The children’s mischievous antics are super charming, and they say some pretty hilarious stuff. You just can’t help but fall in love with them despite the merely decent acting. You’ll inevitably find yourself rooting for them and hoping they succeed in their quest for a blueberry pie.

What’s more, in the course of their adventure, these kids add a fourth member to their tight-knit circle, a girl named Petal, and she brings the movie to the next level. She’s played by Lorelei Olivia Mote, and this girl is super talented. She’s one of those rare kids who can emote just as well as any adult, so she completes this friend group and adds a key component that none of the other children possess.

On top of the great atmosphere and the excellent characters, Riddle of Fire also has a really intriguing plot structure. For a large portion of its runtime, it’s almost like the narrative version of a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s a chain reaction of problem after problem, so you’ll want to keep your eyes glued to the screen to find out how these kids solve each successive challenge.

A girl looking serious
Image courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

However, there does come a point where the story slows down to take a breather, and soon afterward, it starts to drag a little. Granted, it never gets bad enough to diminish the experience significantly, but it’s enough that the film probably won’t end up on my top-10 list at the end of the year. Thankfully though, this rough patch doesn’t last too long, and once Riddle of Fire gets going again, it’s great the whole rest of the way.

Last but not least, I want to talk a bit about the magic in this film. We don’t get a ton of it, and even when the witch uses her powers, it’s never entirely clear if they’re real. Everything that happens can also be explained by natural means, so it’s completely possible that this witch is actually just a clever cult leader who’s brainwashed her slaves into thinking she has some sort of supernatural power over them.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find that ambiguity utterly fascinating. It provides us with some really meaty food for thought about the nature of the supernatural, and in my opinion, that makes for a much more intellectually stimulating story than a more straightforward style of magic ever could.

It’s like the cherry on top of this amazing adventure, so I highly recommend that you give Riddle of Fire a watch. Sure, the film isn’t quite perfect, but on the whole, it’s a captivating fairy tale with characters you’ll quickly grow to love. It’s everything I wanted it to be, and if you enjoy offbeat genre cinema that defies easy categorization, I think you’ll have a great time with it too.

Riddle of Fire is set to hit select theaters on March 22.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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