Blaze (Melbourne International Film Festival) – Film Review

Blaze is a fantasy drama film which mixes live action, animation, and music to tell the story of twelve-year-old prepubescent girl.

One day walking home from the shops, Blaze is confronted by a horrific act of sexual violence between Jake (Josh Lawson) and Hannah (Yael Stone). Witnessing the entire thing, Blaze has a mental breakdown from the inexplicable cruelty on display which she cannot comprehend.

Already an extremely imaginative child, she retreats largely to a fantasy world accompanied by her pet dragon to cope with the confusion of the evils of the world and the ensuing investigation into to the crime. All the while, her father Luke (Simon Baker) is completely out of his element and attempts to hold her sanity together as best he can.

This marks the debut feature film for director Del Katherine Barton and it is clearly heavily influenced by her background as a visual artist. The story was inspired upon her hearing the statistic that on average, one Australian woman a week is killed by a current or former partner. Blaze is a very feminist film, bringing a unique style, extremely interesting vision, and important message to the big screen while displaying the harsh realities of being a woman. Realities that Blaze, as a girl, must confront on her journey to womanhood.

Much of the film is told within abstract or surrealist moments, showing the inner turmoil raging in this small girl’s thoughts. Even before we were treated to heavy visual effects, I felt the film was a beautiful piece but the vibrant colours and exotic costumes on display within Blaze‘s subconscious are jaw dropping. The brilliant stop motion animation provided by Jonathan Daw may have been my favourite part as I’ve always been a fan of the craft.

Accompanying the film’s impressive visual effects is an at times haunting and childlike wonder-invoking score delivered in a collaborative effort by Sam Petty and American singer songwriter Angel Olsen. While the film can feel a little like a music video, their work brings the nightmare to life in an explosive way which deserves as much credit as the film’s many VFX teams.

Surrealist films always strikes me as hit or miss. But here, it provided a fantastic look into the mind of the film’s protagonist and was a brilliant way of bringing such emotional moments to the big screen.

The choices of how the story is told in Blaze may not be for everyone, while filmgoers who enjoys the work of David Lynch for example, will find much to appreciate than those expecting a more traditional storytelling experience. Blaze could have honestly been covered in a short film and still achieve the same effect in a fraction of the time. Despite this, I loved how this story was told and much of that is not only thanks to the unique visual style but also the amazing talent of the actors on screen.

Without exception, I found every performance in this movie pitch perfect. For a film with as creative a take as this and so much of the running time told in an symbolic manner, had it not been for such strong performances anchoring the more human side, the whole thing could have missed its mark.

Julia Savage gives a performance beyond her years. The decision was made to not show much of Blaze‘s life before her innocence is robbed from her which I wasn’t completely on board with. However, Savage‘s talent was on full display and ensures that we immediately identify with her character and see over the course of the film her character’s growth and maturity as a girl being forced to accept horrible truths about the world she had once been shielded from.

Simon Baker provides an amazing performance and shows tenderness as Luke, not a typically masculine father figure who is troubled by the shattering of his daughter’s world and his uncertainty on how exactly best to protect her.

Blaze is about the evils that men inflict on women, as well as being about blossoming womanhood, delivering an emotional ride via a spectacular visual flair, and is accompanied by two of the best lead performances I have seen in an Australian film this year. 

Blaze is now showing as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival, and will have a general release in Australia from September 1.
For more information and ticketing to sessions at the film festival, visit:
https://miff.com.au/program/film/blaze

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