Boy, the high school life really is hard…
A multi-thriller masquerading as a character drama, Blame is a supremely written, wild success that is helmed by a monumental force in Quinn Shephard, who not only commands the screen in front of the camera as a performer, but is also a commanding presence behind the camera, despite being just 20-years-old. This is an intoxicating experience about lust, desire, sexuality, longing, isolation, loneliness and the nature of consent between a student and a teacher.
Each and every character here much range, identity and complexity, to the point where the lines between good and bad become increasingly blurred and no one is innocent. Initially, you believe this is the story about two girls in Abigail and Melissa pitted against each other, with one being the innocent and the other being the stereotypical mean cheerleader. But as the film progresses, we realise these two central protagonists have far more compassion for each other than we thought originally. Their complex relationship and interactions are incredibly well-executed, and the way they change and evolve throughout the film’s run-time is fascinating to watch.
This is a tale full of twists and turns with the plants and payoffs woven seamlessly within the narrative and delivered in the most satisfying way, plus the parallels between this story and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible are perfectly fitting. Abigail’s relationship with her teacher Jeffrey is depicted in a very sympathetic and vulnerable way since the teacher doesn’t come across as the slimy senior preying on a hapless young girl. He’s trying to do the right thing throughout, but he gets close to her because there’s a mutual attraction. An emotional affair between two lonely souls. Chris Messina does a compelling job at conveying these complicated emotions on screen, which is commendable seeing as he has the toughest role in this film. Nadia Alexander is also fiercely dynamic in her showcase role as the seemingly villainous Melissa, tapping into various emotions that makes her such a complex character.
However, the real champion here is Quinn Shephard herself, who gives a very daring and brave performance that’s full of maturity, nuance and unpredictability far beyond her years. But it’s not just through her amazing acting where she excels, but also through astonishing prowess behind the camera. She proves to be a sufficiently competent director, a highly efficient writer and producer (Quinn co-wrote and co-produced the movie with her mother Laurie Shephard), as well as a skilled editor and songwriter. Quinn carries the weight and burden of the film on her shoulders, and she emerges triumphant by the end, the story behind this film a fascinating one. Being drawn to The Crucible when she was young, Shephard wrote a rough draft of the story while she was still in high school, and for several years, developed the story and refined it to its truest form. By the time it came to making the film, Quinn ended up having to finance the entire production herself through her saved-up college fund with extra help and support from her parents since her initial financier mysteriously dropped out after just one week into production, plus it was shot in just 19 days!
It’s an accomplishing feat from Quinn, faced against seemingly unforeseeable odds and emerging triumphant by the end. At such a young age, she has managed to craft a bold debut feature that tackles very mature themes and ideas, boasts very credible performances, and hopefully, proves to be the perfect catapult that launches Shephard to greater things as both a performer and as a filmmaker. Having already proved to be a powerful, daring force in this (as well as in her glorified cameo in this year’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post), it’s quite clear that Quinn Shephard is a name to watch out for in the near future.
Dir: Quinn Shephard
Prd: Quinn Shephard, Laurie Shephard
Scr: Quinn Shephard, Laurie Shephard
Starring: Quinn Shephard, Nadia Alexander, Tate Donovan, Chris Messina, Sarah Mezzanotte, Tessa Albertson
DOP: Aaron Kovalchik
Music: Peter Henry Phillips
Runtime: 100 mins