The adventurous spirit of The Goonies and Time Bandits lives on in Riddle of Fire, the charmingly homespun feature debut of filmmaker Weston Razooli. Shot through with the warm amber hue of nostalgia—and not just because it was captured on Kodak 16mm film, with all of the rich color and texture that entails—Riddle of Fire is a giddy romp through the woods of rural Wyoming that harkens back to the best kid-focused fantasy flicks of yesteryear, the kinds of original movies that modern Hollywood has largely abandoned in favor of bloated blockbusters based on established intellectual property. But who needs big studio entertainment when you have indie films as fun as this?

Into the Woods

Riddle of Fire centers on a trio of troublemaking best friends: brothers Jodie (Skyler Peters) and Hazel (Charlie Stover) and their gal pal Alice (Phoebe Ferro), who may or may not have once married Hazel in an informal bathroom ceremony that anyone who has ever been eight years old will be all too familiar with. Armed with dirt bikes and paintball guns, these little rascals roam their hometown of Ribbon, Wyoming like a miniature biker gang, basking in the freedom of having parents too tired and busy to keep an eye on them.

source: Yellow Veil Pictures

When the kids obtain a new video game system and come home ready to play, they are alarmed to discover that Hazel and Jodie’s mother, Julie (Danielle Hoetmer), has changed the password on the television. Sick in bed and reluctant to let them sit inside all day, Julie agrees to give them the password under one condition: that they go to the local bakery and get her one of the blueberry pies she’s loved since she was a child. Only when she has the pie she’s been craving from her sickbed will she finally grant their request.

Sounds simple, right? But when you’re a kid, nothing is ever as easy as it seems…though it’s usually a hell of a lot more entertaining as well. That’s true about Alice, Hazel, and Jodie’s odyssey, which involves bringing a baker something colder than ice, obtaining an egg with speckles for good luck, and becoming accidentally kidnapped by a gang of poachers and taxidermists led by the delightfully named Anna-Freya Hollyhock (Lio Tipton) and including menacing huntsman John Redrye (Charles Halford) and put-upon brother Marty Hollyhock (Razooli). Anna-Freya is a kind of witch whose young daughter, Petal (Lorelei Olivia Mote) has some of the same abilities, including the power to control members of the gang with a few special magic words. But Petal’s feeling bored and neglected, so when this eccentric trio of kids her age suddenly appears, she agrees to help them, even if it means angering her mother.

Everyday Magic

One of the main reasons Riddle of Fire is so thoroughly enjoyable is that the kid actors look and act like real kids, right down to sometimes flubbing their lines and powering through with no self-consciousness whatsoever. Unlike some young actors, they aren’t overly polished in appearance or unbelievably precocious in behavior; they’re goofy, creative, and generally fearless, albeit sometimes also very awkward. They storm into places meant for adults, like underground clubs, without worrying about whether or not they’ll get in trouble for being there; all that matters to them is that they complete their quest and get the pie to Julie so that they can finally play some video games. The adult actors are great too, especially Tipton as the beautiful and mysterious Anna-Freya and Halford as the stereotypical scary guy Redrye.

source: Yellow Veil Pictures

The wonderful retro-style cinematography from Jake Mitchell goes a long way towards establishing the comforting vintage vibe of Riddle of Fire, but the film’s soundtrack, which features a robust amount of dungeon synth as well as needle drops as diverse as Player’s Baby Come Back and Riz Ortolani’s theme from Cannibal Holocaust, also sets the mood remarkably well, giving you the feeling that you’re watching a long-lost film from the early 1980s that was recently discovered in a dusty corner of someone’s wood-paneled basement. (Sure, smartphones occasionally surface to remind us that this is the present day, but those make far less of an impression than literally everything else in the movie.) Razooli’s script occasionally gets a little too twee—Alice yelling “you CALYPTUS” as an insult early on in the film comes to mind—but for the most part, the dialogue avoids being too excessively clever to be believable.

At close to two hours, Riddle of Fire might run a bit too long for the average kid’s attention span, but it’s not a movie for them so much as it is for their Gen X and Millennial parents, the people who grew up on movies like this and have never stopped longing to go on these kinds of madcap, unsupervised adventures…even though, in theory, we should be able to do so whenever we want. (Let’s be real, though, it’s not the same.) The stakes are relatively low and the danger relatively tame, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a wild ride.


A dark fairy tale that blurs the line between reality and fantasy in a way recognizable to anyone who ever had a child’s active imagination, Riddle of Fire will make you feel young again in the best way possible.

Riddle of Fire opens in theaters in the U.S. on March 22, 2024.

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