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Movie Review: Neo-fairytale “RIDDLE OF FIRE” Has Certain Charms

Thursday, March 21, 2024 | Review


Starring Phoebe Ferro, Charlie Stover and Skyler Peters
Written and directed by Weston Razooli
Yellow Veil & Vinegar Syndrome

In the era of cell phones and dirt bikes, there appears to still be room for a bit of fantasy and magic here and there. RIDDLE OF FIRE teases elements of the fantastic and follows the general structure of a classic quest, with wildly mixed results. RIDDLE OF FIRE is the feature film debut of writer/director and actor Weston Razooli. Self-dubbed a “neo-fairytale” the film dabbles in witches and incantations but not in predictable settings.

Set in Wyoming and shot on 16mm, the film is visually a throwback to simpler times. There are towering trees covering wide valleys and a group of three youngsters who are up to no good. Alice and brothers Hazel and Jodie (Phoebe Ferro, Charlie Stover and Skyler Peters) kickstart their screen time by stealing a video game console from a nearby warehouse. Though they nearly get caught, they make it safely to the boys’ house and start salivating at the idea of frying their precious little brains by playing digital games all day long. A small hitch in their plans starts them on a convoluted quest to bake a pie, but first, they must get the recipe, then an egg – and then they get into far greater trouble when they encounter a band of violent hippies.

These long-haired loners all answer to Anna-Freya (Lio Tipton), though they seem to have little choice in the matter. Run like a cult, with a real-life witch at the head, the small band of outsiders is at her beck and call, without enough conscious awareness to successfully rebel. Anna-Freya’s daughter, Petal (Lorelei Mote), suffers from the same neglect as the rest of the gang, even though she is the heir apparent to her mom’s gifts.

A mother who always sleeps, a pie to solve their problems, a witch with strong powers, children on a lengthy quest, and access to all of the great outdoors for their hijinx sounds an awful lot like the makings of a classic fairytale. RIDDLE OF FIRE never seems to dig too deeply into the fantastical nature of the characters or plot, instead focusing on the chain of logic that leads these children on their adventure. A series of challenges makes perfect sense in their world, as they work their way toward at last playing that stolen video game system. They are resourceful and determined, and at times, quite adorable.

The film is visually intriguing. The lush 16mm colors soak in all the sunshine and nature’s bounty as these kids try to plow through their tasks. It is clear to see some places where the filmstock does not allow for the details we are accustomed to in our hi-def world, but the overall style of the film uses that to its advantage. The film’s score, a smattering of existing “dungeon synth” tracks, matches the mood of each scene and enhances the feeling of old meets new.

For all that RIDDLE OF FIRE has going for it, there are some serious missteps too. The child actors in the lead three roles turn in generally serviceable performances but never rise to a level of adequacy to bear the weight of the story. Some of the dialogue is clever, but the delivery is clunky and feels cobbled together from one line to the next. (And yes, I do feel terrible for picking on child actors, but they take up nearly the entire screen time and one child is so inscrutable all of his lines are subtitled.) To add to that, RIDDLE OF FIRE seems wholly unaware of its strengths. The lore of the hippie gang and their misdoings is fascinating and worthy of far more attention than the central plot. The gang is merely a side quest here, but there is a problem when any film centers on the least interesting characters and plot.

Playing out like a school-age, live-action “Dungeons & Dragons” game there sure is a lot to commend in RIDDLE OF FIRE. Frustratingly, the uneven performances and story tempo make the movie an unnecessarily mixed bag.

RIDDLE OF FIRE opens exclusively in theaters nationwide on March 22.

Deirdre is a Chicago-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to C-Ville Weekly,, and belongs to the Chicago Film Critics Association. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.