Channeling moving coming-of-age fantastical films such as Where the Wild Things Are and A Monster Calls, Tribeca selection Blaze puts rape culture in its crosshairs through the lens of an emotionally damaged 13-year-old child. I found myself slowly falling in love with the main character of Blaze as she grapples with the horrible images that have seared their way into her mind. She remains haunted by what she sees throughout the course of the film, and must constantly escape to a fantasy world of her own making. Gorgeous, creative visuals, layered scripting, and a stellar feature debut from newcomer Julia Savage make Blaze a captivating and stunning vision that calculatedly tugs at one’s heartstrings.
It is a day that starts like any other. Blaze, whose room is adorned with intricate murals and colorful figurines, is going for a walk about town. Snooty girls drawing dicks at the bus stop and a cute locked-up Dalmatian color her journey in shades of normality. When Blaze is strolling by a secluded alleyway, she stops dead in her tracks, as she overhears a man and woman in the throes of an intense argument. From one moment to the next, Blaze goes from blasting “Bunny Foo Foo” on her headphones to witnessing a horrifying event. Before her very eyes, Blaze is forced to observe the abuse and graphic rape as the helpless woman tries to escape.
Shockingly, the woman who is later identified as Hannah (Yael Stone, Orange is the New Black) turns up dead in the alleyway. With the help of Blaze’s father, Luke (Simon Baker, The Ring Two, The Devil Wears Prada), Blaze is prompted to give a DNA sample, and make a statement of her own as to what she has seen. However, an invasive line of questioning, in which the prosecution straight-up asks Blaze if she understands what sex and bondage are, calls Blaze’s state of mind into question. Branded an “unreliable” young female who cannot grasp that Jake the rapist (Josh Lawson, Bombshell, Mortal Kombat) and Hannah the victim had a real relationship, Blaze becomes branded a troubled outcast. Jake maintains that Hannah was killed after they parted ways, but Blaze knows what she saw.
Understandably traumatized, Blaze tries to get to the deepest parts of her mind to escape this reality. No one will believe her—one can only be told they are lying so many times before it begins to create very real emotional and mental health issues. As Blaze begins doing her own research, she comes upon the literal concept of rape, which beforehand was a complete unknown to her. Throughout Blaze, we are given a window into this young girl’s mind in the way she processes guilt and anguish. Running jarring real-life scenarios through a filter of fantasy and sparkle, Blaze deals with her trauma in the only way she knows how: to escape it. Giant licking kangaroos with massive tongues keep her company, a porcelain doll climbs out of a mouth, and a larger-than-life dragon creature with billowy eyelashes named Saffi becomes her best friend. Blaze’s imagination cannot be stifled, as her biggest fear is that the medicine will “kill my dragon.”
Utilizing essential and immersive sound design, it is hard to believe this is writer/director Del Kathryn Batron’s first feature film. Huna Amweero co-writes, and together they weave an important story about female trauma, believing survivors, and coming-of-age growing pains. Julia Savage in particular is established as a force to be reckoned with. If Blaze is any indicator, this is just the start of a burgeoning career for the talented young actress. An ending that feels like a hopeful call to action left me thinking about this title for days. Blaze will no doubt go down as one of the best films to emerge from Tribeca, and certainly a terrific effort from these female creatives.
Blaze screened at 2022’s Tribeca Film Festival.