Written and Directed by Quinn Shephard.
Starring Quinn Shephard, Chris Messina, Nadia Alexander, and Tate Donovan.
Tensions rise when a substitute teacher changes the class play to The Crucible.
Early in Blame we meet Abigail (Quinn Shephard), combing her hair in a mirror, the back of her head blocking us from seeing her reflection. Later her drama teacher, Mr. Woods’, girlfriend (Trieste Kelly Dunn), is introduced in a similar way, a head of hair from behind, like their faces could be exchanged, and no one would be the wiser. When Mr. Woods (Chris Messina) and Abigail rehearse the scene they’re working on, it’s the line, “Can you see my face?” that’s given special attention.
Does Blame blur the lines of a student-teacher relationship? Mr. Woods change the class play from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. If you know your drama, the answer’s a hardy yes, but there’s more to Blame then a substitute teacher casting Abigail to play her namesake, the plays’ villain, in the school showcase.
There’s also Abigail’s toxic relationship with her understudy, Melissa (Nadia Alexander). Presented as Abigail’s opposite in every way, including her face looking back at us from a mirror, Blame becomes interested in the choices people make to cultivate their identities. For Melissa, it’s taking a stand when her dad tells her to switch outfits, bringing the clothing to school so she can change in the bathroom. For Abigail, it’s not stopping at memorizing her lines but taking on her characters’ physicalities. If the play had been cast according to type, Melissa would’ve been Abigail, but for all the truth in high school stereotypes, Blame uses classic drama to realize their limitations.
Director, writer, and star, Quinn Shephard was in high school when she started working on Blame‘s script and, unlike many Hollywood pictures, Blame is a film that knows what high school looks and sounds like: The desk arrangements teachers are fond of rearranging. The laughs when someone reads a line that could be mistaken as sexual. The awkward, forced lessons, where students aren’t encouraging but the teacher must find a way to progress. Blame never loses track of how much time is in a period, and it keeps the play’s ambitions in check.
Where the film falters is in leaving an explanation for Abigail’s mental health to her bullies. There may be no substance to the rumor she has dissociative identity disorder. She left the school for a while, something happened in a psych class, but that doesn’t mean Abigail’s been diagnosed with anything. It’s the nature of high school to create an explanation where one isn’t given, and make Abigail’s personal business open season for “Sybil” taunts. The problem with not letting the audience know the truth is it creates more mystery around a disorder the film industry has exploited and made fuzzy for decades. It’s realistic students wouldn’t know her medical history but, when shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are trying to break through mental health stigmas, it’s damaging to keep viewers in the dark, reading into what could be a love for method acting and turning it into something darker.
The most important thing Blame does is show the fate of a student who questions Melissa, and doesn’t take her rumors at face value. Ellie (Tessa Albertson) isn’t perfect. She never makes her presence known to Abigail or Mr. Woods when they practice in the auditorium, but she’s not a follower, and it’s not long before Melissa starts to target her, too.
Standing up to bullies is the right thing to do, but it’s not always going to get you seen as a hero by your peers. That’s what makes it difficult. Blame isn’t perfect, but it never spins the lie that high school can be cracked, or that everything will always turn out for the best. It’s a truth as recognizable as the plays on a school reading list but, compared to other films set during high school, Blame understands it better than most.
Blame comes to theaters January 5th in the US.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★