Blame (2018)

Blame is the latest entry in the “high school life (somewhat) parallels a famous novel/play” classification, which isn’t yet a thing and probably wouldn’t have too many entries if it were. There are certainly some: Easy A, She’s the Man, 10 Things I Hate About You—I’m sure there are others, too, but you get the point. Now we have Blame, which parallels The Crucible—a play it has its characters study and perform within the film, because subtlety.

Our lead is Abigail (Quinn Shephard), who recently spent six months in a mental institution but is now returning to her high school, trying to reintegrate herself in the system. Her fellow students, also being in high school, are very mean to her. That’s especially true of Melissa (Nadia Alexander), the proverbial Queen B, who takes every opportunity to pick on Abigail. But when Abigail is made the lead of their rendition of The Crucible—Melissa is her understudy—and gets to spend lots of one-on-one time with their new drama teacher (Chris Messina), that escalates matters.

If that sounds … petty, it kind of is, but it’s only the overarching plot and not necessarily the point. The point is in showing us how these teenagers interact with each other, giving them more difficult roles and relations than these movies often do, and then throwing this conflict on top of it. And it only really becomes something of a conflict in its second half—it’s just bullying before that, with the popular cheerleader picking on the outcast drama geek.

Blame thrives when it’s being mean, when it’s focusing on the cutting insults, the gossiping, and the day-to-day interactions of its characters, which are often awful. It knows how many teenagers operate and it is at its best when that’s what it’s focusing on. The main plot? Doesn’t really matter. We’ve seen far more interesting teacher-student and bully-victim relationships in film. But the way it captures how these characters think and act toward each other? It excels at that.

It’s an engaging drama about the awfulness that occurs between high schoolers

Chances are that a large reason for that falls on Quinn Shephard, who not only stars in the film but also directed, produced, financed, wrote, and edited it. She wrote the screenplay—the original draft, anyway—while in high school, which is why the characters and the dialogue feel authentic. The story behind the film is perhaps more interesting than its main plot, given the trials and tribulations she went through trying to get the movie made. And, hey, that the movie’s pretty interesting on top of that is wonderful.

Shephard gets good performances out of her cast—and it helps that the teenage characters are played by actors who are relatively close to teenagerhood. Shephard’s performance is solid—the quiet, isolated girl whom you know might just go off at any moment. Alexander gets to play the evil girl, and seems to be reveling in every minute of it. She’s a lot of fun. Messina, as the drama teacher, is amiable but not a ton more. The highlights come from the teenage girls, which makes sense given by whom the movie is being made.

Blame might not be telling the best story in the world—its overarching plot takes a backstage to its smaller, scene-to-scene moments and interactions—but it’s an engaging drama about the awfulness that occurs between high schoolers. Its characters feel authentic, the dialogue sounds real, and the cattiness and pettiness and mean-spirited nature of its characters ring true. It doesn’t do much beyond that, and it might not feel terribly original, but it mostly works and it’s a good directorial debut for Quinn Shephard.

Conclusion: Blame is an effective drama about how awful teenagers treat each other.

Recommendation: Want to see a modern-day, high school version of The Crucible? Check out Blame.

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