Adventure Movies

‘Riddle of Fire’ review: A dreamy fantasy adventure with ‘Goonies’ flair

March 22, 20246 Mins Read

Adventure awaits in even the most mundane of tasks in Riddle of Fire.

The enchanting feature debut from writer/director Weston Razooli celebrates childlike wonder by turning a series of familiar chores into a magical romp through moonlit forests and villains’ lairs. With its nostalgic quality and plucky children protagonists, Riddle of Fire feels right at home alongside classic kids’ adventure films like The Goonies. However, its dreaminess still sets it apart from its predecessors, making for a fiercely original fantasy tale.

What’s Riddle of Fire about?

Charlie Stover, Skyler Peters, and Phoebe Ferro in "Riddle of Fire."

Credit: TIFF

You can’t have a fantasy adventure without a group of heroes, and in Riddle of Fire, our heroes take the form of scrappy kids: brothers Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters) and their friend Alice (Phoebe Ferro). They call themselves the Three Immortal Reptiles, and they ride around their hometown of Ribbon, Wyoming, on mini motorcycles, wielding their paintball guns against anyone who stands in their way.

After a particularly daring heist lands them a new video game console, the Three Immortal Reptiles are desperate to test it out. The only problem? Hazel and Jodie’s mother Julie (Danielle Hoetmer) has changed the password to the TV. If they want to crack the password, they’ll have to bring Julie a blueberry pie from a nearby bakery. But just like in any good legendary quest, the task at hand is no simple feat.

Riddle of Fire is a modern fairy tale.

"Riddle of Fire."

Credit: TIFF

As soon as Julie asks for a blueberry pie, Riddle of Fire fixes itself in the language of fairy tales. The children encounter a baker who demands something “colder than ice” in exchange for her pie recipe, setting them on a small side quest. Later, when the recipe recommends “speckled eggs,” the Three Immortal Reptiles refuse to accept anything other than the last box of speckled eggs they find at a local grocery store.

Unfortunately, those eggs are scooped up by the notorious John Redrye (Charles Halford). He’s part of the Enchanted Blade Gang, led by the witchy Anna-Freya Hollyhock (Lio Tipton). Riddle of Fire plays with just how much of Anna-Freya’s magic is real, blurring the line between our world and a fantastic alternate reality. She and her acolytes pose a real threat to our egg-seeking heroes, especially when they follow the Enchanted Blade Gang on a nighttime hunt in a national forest. Luckily for them, Anna-Freya’s young daughter Petal (Lorelei Mote) has snuck along too. And like a benevolent fairy princess, she offers them the help they need.

Finding one egg for a recipe may not seem like particularly high stakes for a quest, but for the Three Immortal Reptiles, that egg is a matter of life and death. After all, not getting to play video games before summer camp would be deathly disappointing for these youngsters. On top of all that, Julie, ailing from a cold that keeps her in bed, becomes a trapped princess figure herself. The only thing that can cure her is the pie, adding an extra layer of urgency to the gang’s efforts.

Razooli accentuates the film’s folkloric elements with vibrant visuals and soundscapes. Shot on Kodak 16mm film, the world of Riddle of Fire pops off the screen with larger-than-life colors. Ribbon’s forests and mountains are a bright green, complemented by the clear blue of a mostly cloudless sky. These are landscapes that look as if they could come out of a storybook, or out of a great fantasy video game like The Legend of Zelda. Adding to that video game quality is the film’s occasional use of gaming sound effects and its looping score, which would sound right at home in a video game or at a Renaissance fair. Even though we’re watching a film that is mostly rooted in reality, these choices are more than enough to transport us back to our own childhood fantasies, where every day was an opportunity for adventure.

Riddle of Fire finds humor in its child heroes.

You can’t have an ode to childhood without a solid cast of children, and Riddle of Fire delivers with its four young leads. Stover, Peters, Ferro, and Mote all have a raw, unpolished charm to them, which proves especially endearing when paired with their deep commitment to the adventures at the heart of the film.

Each child has a particularly affected way of speaking, hurling out folksy words like “yon” and insults like “woodsy bastards.” At times, their dialogue doesn’t sound at all like something a child would say, while at others, it seems perfectly natural. One especially funny recurring bit sees Jodie’s lines subtitled, as Peters can be a bit hard to understand. Despite being the youngest, Jodie may be the most mannered speaker of the four, with the subtitles lending extra emphasis to his decidedly non-childlike dialogue. It all adds to Riddle of Fire‘s half-fantastic quality.

Riddle of Fire does overstay its welcome a tad, and its tendency to linger for too long on certain moments can take its more twee sensibilities from adorable to grating. But overall, the film remains a sweet, singular fantasy, as well as a wonderful addition to the children’s adventure genre.

Riddle of Fire opens in limited release March 22.

UPDATE: Mar. 20, 2024, 4:34 p.m. EDT “Riddle of Fire” was reviewed out of 2023’s Fantastic Fest.

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