The Movie Waffler Tribeca 2022 Review - BLAZE | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca 2022 Review - BLAZE

blaze review
A young girl retreats into a fantasy world after witnessing a violent crime.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Del Kathryn Barton

Starring: Julia Savage, Simon Baker, Yael Stone, Josh Lawson, Heather Mitchell

Australian visual artist Del Kathryn Barton makes her feature film debut with Blaze, a dark, magic realist coming-of-age tale in which the young protagonist is forced to come of age in a manner no child should have to endure.

The titular 12-year-old protagonist (Julia Savage) is something of an introvert, preferring the company of the imaginary giant glitter-covered dragon that hangs out in her bedroom to that of other humans. When she's out and about she retreats into the solace of giant headphones, covering her ears, if not her eyes, from the outside world.

blaze review

Those exposed eyes lead Blaze to witness an altercation between two adults – Jake (Josh Lawson) and Hannah (Yael Stone) – in an alleyway close to her home. The snippets of conversation we hear suggest that the pair once enjoyed an intimate encounter, but Hannah makes it clear she wants to take the relationship no further. Jake refuses to take no for an answer and brutally sexually assaults Hannah, who hits her head on a rock in the process. Jake flees the scene, leaving Hannah to succumb to her wounds.

Blaze also flees, back to the safety of her bedroom where she retreats under the covers of her bed. Realising something is up with his daughter, Blaze's single father Luke (Simon Baker) gets her to open up and takes her to the police station. There she is subjected to gruelling physical examinations, along with being forced to relive the experience. After her testimony at a pre-trial is twisted by a canny defence lawyer, Luke refuses to allow his daughter to appear again in court.

blaze review

This leads Blaze to experience guilt. As she looks up the victim and the killer online, befriending a teenage son of the former and stalking the latter, she increasingly retreats into her fantasy world. This is where the director's background in fine arts comes into play as Blaze's bedroom transforms into a sort of Narnia, populated by the various figurines she keeps in her room, now brought to life through visual effects as impressive as any bigger budgeted Hollywood movie. If these scenes jar with the grittiness of the central drama, well, I guess that's the point, but you may find them a distraction. Too often they play like music videos slotted into the movie.

I'm not sure what audience Barton has in mind with Blaze. The graphic assault that opens the movie precludes it from being suitable for children, but the rest of the movie plays like that's exactly the audience the film is aiming for. The dialogue is particularly on-the nose, which would be excusable in a children's movie where we expect things to be simplified, but it's too heavy-handed for an adult-oriented drama. Barton's point about men getting away with horrific crimes is stretched beyond reason, with Jake carrying on with his normal life amid the trial, rather than being hidden away, which is how such things go in reality. Somehow he's managed to keep all this a secret from his wife, who is shocked when he's confronted by Blaze on the street. How can you not know your husband is on trial for a rape/murder?

blaze review

The film's various messy strands are just about held together by the central performances of Savage and Baker. The most effective moments are those that drop the magic realist pretence and simply focus on the relationship between a traumatised young girl and the father who wants to help his daughter but can't find any words that might console her. There's an effective and occasionally charming drama in Blaze, but it's buried beneath a layer of unnecessary glitter.

2022 movie reviews