When attending a film festival, you want your first film to be incredible. You want it to set the pace and vibe for the entirety of your attendance and set the bar for the remaining films to come. For the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, my time kicked off in a fiery blaze of intensity, trauma, strength and unexpected empowerment. Del Kathryn Barton’s Blaze may not be an immediate snag of your attention, but it is a film that needs to be seen. It’s intensely driven visuals and gut wrenching story will have you at the edge of your seat, giving way to an incredible feeling of catharsis and release.
Trauma and Recovery
From the moment Blaze opens, you come to understand that this is not your traditional film. There is a transcendent and representational feeling as eyes within exoskeletal shells of bugs open encompassing almost the entirety of the creature. As the opening credits and music swell, it comes to a dramatic halt. The transcendent feeling transitions to murals on a wall, a baby looking on both amused and seemingly inspired. From color to shape, these murals are eye-catching. They provide more nourishment than the bottle beside the baby – and they ignite the imagination.
Viewers are whisked away from the imagery, brought into the safety and comfort of a girl’s bedroom. Blaze (Julia Savage) is your typical child, fluttering between imaginary creatures in the corner of her bedroom to the sweet treats of ice cream at a shop down the street. With no dialogue and only Savage to fill the screen, the innocence of youth is captured in momentary sequences of peace and tranquility – a moment that is ripped to shreds just a few minutes later.
As Blaze is making her way home, she overhears voices pass her, the sounds of footsteps penetrating the seclusionary music from her headphones. As she continues, she sees a woman (Yael Stone) and a man (Josh Lawson) in the alley speaking with one another, the woman rejecting his advances. The incident escalates quickly, a simple “no” turning into assault, then rape, and then murder. It is a difficult watch, the brutality inflicted on the young woman – all the more difficult as you watch Blaze paralyzed in place unable to fully look away and unable to help.
Having witnessed the altercation and gone undetected, Blaze makes her way home in an overwhelming and engulfing trance of shock, horror and grief. Emotions swell around her in a deafening and uneasy fashion, the film both capturing this in real-time and through intense visuals that reverberate the trauma through its audience. As we watch Blaze crawl under the comfort of her blanket, hiding from both reality and fiction, you will find that you too are overcome by the incident, heightened by the visual representations of her mind coming to life.
As her father Luke (Simon Baker) discovers what has happened, and the police are subsequently involved, Blaze struggles to work through the trauma she has experienced, consumed by shock, regret, guilt, and anger. The defined lines of reality and fiction begin to blur and a new world begins to encompass Blaze.
Craftsmanship Behind the Scenes
If there is one thing to be said about Blaze – it is intense. From loud overpowering music to intense visual montages and sequences, Blaze is here to make a statement and to be heard. As Blaze blends the world of reality and her own imagination, so too does the film embracing various forms of art, animation, puppetry, and live-action. It is not afraid to stretch the boundaries of storytelling to fully encompass the pain, grief, and renewal of Blaze’s experience.
Where Blaze finds its ultimate strength is in its lead. Savage bites deep into this role, bringing every element to life with the fullest commitment possible. The breadth of emotion and performance is both heart-wrenching and hypnotizing all at once. You can not look away, your eyes a fixed mark – much like the eyes throughout the film’s entirety. Savage is a dragon in her own right, blazing through the film in a fiery showcase of strength, vulnerability, and acting prowess that makes her one to watch in future films to come.
Visuals also prove to be the overarching success of Blaze. Expressionistic in nature, they reach deep into the crevices of the mind and force viewers to look at grief and trauma in a new light. This is a young child who has witnessed murder and rape, a young child still holding onto the innocence of youth while forcibly pushed to understand the devastation of adulthood. Her story is forever intertwined with Hannah’s, Blaze‘s visuals both binding and cathartically advancing Blaze from child to woman. Yet beyond its deeply tragic nature, the visuals of Blaze are fully encompassing, giving viewers a visual representation of both hope and strength, that for all the trauma and devastation in the world, there are those who will rise.
Blaze is a film primarily focused on its central character, yet gains strength from equally strong performances of its supporting cast. With this supporting cast, Blaze is able to extend its views on trauma, delivering a deeply resonating image of not only the stages of grief but the rippling effects of crime. As society too often wants to push forward, Blaze forces viewers to stay in the moment with Blaze, watching the effects of Hannah’s murder and the psychological effects on Blaze affect those around them. Blaze’s father struggles to both reach and help her, seemingly helpless as he watches Blaze’s mental stability succumb to the trauma she experienced. Blaze further includes the family of Hannah, equally broken and traumatized from the loss of their mother and the defects to the legal system that may allow her killer to walk free. Blaze is a film with a focus, yet retains its understanding that Blaze and Hannah are not the only victims.
Blaze is by far, even with it so early in the festival, a standout film at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It is a film that will have you thinking and replaying in your mind long after the credits have rolled. Lead by an incredible performance by Julia Savage and intense multi-media sequences, Blaze promises not only an experience but a cathartic release of an emotional journey.
Have you seen Blaze? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Blaze premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, 2022!
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