Introducing Riddle Of Fire – A Cult Film For The Whole Family

They say never work with children or animals – and when your cast is comprised entirely of first-time child actors, as is the case with Weston Razooli’s directorial debut Riddle Of Fire, you quickly understand why.

The filmmaker was locked in the editing suite for months after filming wrapped, estimating that every single scene he shot had at least one massive blooper in it. He’d often spend weeks at a time editing individual sequences.

“It was like Tetris”, he laughed. “There’s a scene where the kids come out of the forest at night and hot wire the car, it was the very last scene we shot – and by that point, the kids were really tired, none of the takes worked.

“I spent an entire month editing that, and another month editing the dance sequence. There was a lot I decided to build in the edit, as I wanted to leave space for the actors themselves to add their own personalities to these characters, I didn’t want to be too rigid with what I’d written.

“There were other issues that came up, that I never even considered when casting young kids. The actor playing Jodie (Skyler Peters) is subtitled throughout, but that came very late in the editing – when we were auditioning, I didn’t realise how hard it was for people to understand him!”

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Inspired by role playing board games, Riddle of Fire follows two brothers – Jodie and Hazel (Charlie Stover) – and their friend Alice (Phoebe Ferro) on a quest to find a speckled egg to bake the perfect blueberry pie for their mother, so she can give them the password to the TV to play a video game. It’s a simple quest that gets complicated at every turn, especially when the leader of the menacing Enchanted Blade Gang (Charles Harlford) buys the last egg from the grocery store, leading them on an epic journey to the woods to steal it.

It’s part-heist movie, part-supernatural fantasy, and part-nostalgic tale of childhood – but it started life as a more straightforward subversion of classic fairytales.

Razooli said: “It wasn’t initially a story about a blueberry pie, but when I realised their quest had the structure of a Grimm’s fairytale, it became clear this would be a lot purer if they were hunting something simple. Suddenly, it became like Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood on motorcycles, which was such a cool idea to me; I began thinking of it as a neo-fairytale, a movie that subverts the archetypes of the genre in the same way the neo-western plays with the western formula.

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“Growing up, I was obsessed with Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons, and I lived near the mountains in Utah, which would make exploring them feel even more magical. My goal was to capture that same wonder I had at the places I grew up and use it to make a forest in Wyoming feel epic, enchanted and full of danger, like the fantasy stories I loved.”

As a result, this is a movie that feels very deliberately out of time – clearly set in the modern day because of the presence of technology, whilst feeling a million miles from the real world. It looks exactly how you remember childhood feeling.

This is exactly why the parents of the young cast were eager for their children to take part, with Razooli saying he felt more like a “camp counsellor” by getting the kids running, riding dirt bikes, jumping into rivers and more.

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“I have the optimistic view that you could still have adventures like this today, that kids don’t always want to be glued to their smartphones, and that’s why they’re used here as these sci-fi devices. They can use them as binoculars and to look up YouTube videos on how to hot wire cars as part of their adventure, but only ever as that; it’s like a utility belt from Star Wars pushing the story forward!

“The parents really responded to this story because they all had childhoods that felt adventurous; they loved that this was a modern story with that sense of freedom to it, and not just a story about kids scrolling through their phones. They were huge team players during the shoot as well – Skyler’s dad was particularly great, he knew so much about paintball guns and dirt bikes, so he was always on hand to fix those up.”

Razooli’s goal was for the movie to sit firmly in PG-13 territory, offering a sense of danger lacking from contemporary kids’ movies that he found in all of his favourites growing up.

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“I think kid movies these days are so sterile, they lack the roughness and scariness in the older kids’ movies I love, like The Never-Ending Story, or Disney’s Treasure Island. They have terrifying moments that seem almost inappropriate for their audience, but they leave an impression on you and continue to live on in your imagination – scenes that feel a little too intense for the target audience have always been cool to me.

“But there were cases when we needed to play that down a little. Charles Halford plays a scary cowboy, and we needed to dial his performance back from what he was originally aiming for – it needed to be scary, but it couldn’t take over the lighter side of the story, the optimism and childlike innocence that surrounds it.”

Since premiering at Cannes in 2023, the movie has had the rare claim to fame of being shown at horror film festivals and children’s film festivals around the world. And, quite ironically, being sat in front of a screen watching it has made young audiences want to experience the great outdoors.

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“The reaction from kids has been the exact one I’ve hoped for; they want dirt bikes, they want paintballs, they want this kind of adventure that they can’t really have in life. Watching a movie like this as a kid is like watching Home Alone, seeing someone like you have this big adventure in a way that’s oddly inspiring – Macaulay Culkin is resourceful, confident, and inspiring you to reach beyond your means, just like the kids here!”

Unfortunately, Razooli’s next film won’t be shown at any children’s film festivals, teasing that it’s a “very Hard-R, Euro crime thriller slash romance”, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely done with kid-friendly adventures.

“I write a lot of scripts, and I’ve realised my goal is to go back and forth from the adventure movies skewing to kids, and then to the very adult crime movies. But I’d also love to do a Riddle of Fire board game – my US distributor made a card game and a video game, but I want to design the game play if we ever got to do one of those.

“Maybe for the five-year anniversary, we’ll do a Collector’s Edition with a board game…”

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.