Written, produced, edited, and directed by Quinn Shephard, Blame chronicles the story of a young woman who returns to high school after a brief sojourn at a mental institution. When a new drama teacher comes into the picture, the power dynamics between the young woman and her supposedly superior classmates shift, building a powerful, layered story that challenges typical character archetypes and poses the following question: who is to blame for the buried trauma that creates unsolvable issues within its victims? (FEA: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Farah Elattar
“Abigail” (Quinn Shephard), the protagonist, is a high school student pushed back into school by her parents and guidance counselor, who deem that she is “ready” to go back after a six-month stay at a mental institution. Her return coincides with the appearance of a new drama teacher, “Mr. Jeremy” (Chris Messina), who gives her the lead role in the class’ adaptation of The Crucible. The newfound attention she receives angers the antagonist of the film, “Melissa” (Nadia Alexander) — a rebellious woman who dresses and acts like a much older woman, showing up to school in spiked jackets and miniskirts. When Jeremy appoints her as Abigail’s understudy, she is determined to destroy her, and uses various tactics, most of which turn out to be in vain. This rivalry, along with what seems to be the beginning of a potentially inappropriate student/teacher rapport between Abigail and Jeremy, leave the viewer on the edge of their seat throughout the entirety of the film, and culminates in an explosive, unexpected ending that is especially relevant with the current emphasis on the importance of speaking up about sexual harassment, even if the attacker is buried deep within one’s private life, beneath the happy, healthy surface that characterizes suburban life in the United States.
Blame is a film where nothing really happens, and yet, in this nothingness, the viewer is overcome with rather intense emotion watching the characters go through trivial, but moving events. This is made possible through the fluidity, and the gracefulness in the cinematography. The camerawork and montage are not sophisticated; the camera does not wish to distract the viewer by overwhelming their senses with transitions and effects. Instead, the camera presents itself as an omniscient, but unnoticed observer, that infiltrates even the darkest moments in the characters’ progression, through long, discreet takes.
The film reveals itself to be mainly character-driven, as its characters’ humaneness is the main feature Blame depends on in order to form a bond with the viewer. Even the supposed antagonist of the feature is humanized and softened: when her friend gets drinks too much, Melissa stops for a moment in order to care for her – a rare, but powerful moment that shows her capacity for empathy, which permanently and intensely alters the viewer’s perception of her. Indeed, even the aggressor can feel, have compassion, and do good.
Contrarily to what one may think during the first few minutes, Blame is not just a film about superficial high school drama. It is also rather socially-aware, and deals with important issues such as mental health and sexual violence. The protagonist of the film suffers from the alienation often felt by people who experience psychological pain. Other issues also appear during the film, such as the prevalence of violence of different kinds (mental, physical, sexual) in suburban America. Indeed, the fact that Quinn Shephard spent years working on the screenplay definitely shows through the development of the characters.
Although the film plays out coherently, and culminates in a surprising but satisfying manner, the film can feel slow-moving at times. Since its main focus is characters and their quotidian interactions, the film sometimes finds itself too caught in the dullness of daily life, unable to offer a captivating plot point, for fear of losing the authenticity it has so deeply immersed itself in. Therefore, this missing piece may render the film hard to follow at times, especially during the first part of the film.
Nevertheless, Blame is very much worth watching, as it slowly picks up speed, and prepares the viewer for the rather weighty end
© Farah Elattar (1/10/2018) FF2 Media
Top Photo: The poster for Blame.
Middle Photo: The high school students in front of their lockers.
Bottom photo: Abigail and Mr. Jeremy during one of their encounters.
Photo Credits: Shirley Yu & Nikolai Vanyo
Q: Does Blame pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
There are multiple scenes in which Melissa and her friends talk about Abigail, including why she left school the year before.