BLAME, a challenging new film centered around a high school production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, depicts a bold narrative about villains, victims, and how to tell the difference between the two. While this coming-of-age story focuses around a play that's become an English lit class cliché, BLAME is surprisingly surprising.
It's written and directed by Quinn Shephard, a 22-year-old actress who also stars as one of the main characters. Shephard began writing the screenplay after she starred in the role as the villain-mistress Abigail in a regional performance of The Crucible when she was just 15. Her BLAME character, unironically named Abigail, also plays the same role in her theater class.
Abigail is weird, and not a quirky hipster/endearing kind of weird. She wears long white nightgowns to bed at night and colonial dresses to school the next morning. On the first day of her theater class, she shows a glass figurine from her collection as they discuss their upcoming production of The Glass Menagerie. But, their teacher takes maternity leave and the substitute, who introduces himself to the class as just 'Jeremy,' (Chris Messina) decides to switch out plays.
"The Glass Menagerie? I don't know... I thought we could do The Crucible instead," he says, as if that's so much cooler.
Abigail is bullied by a cheerleader, but not the preppy kind of cheerleader, which is refreshing. Melissa (Nadia Alexander) has bright red ombre hair, dark eye makeup, and wears a leather jacket over her cheerleading uniform; like a walking juxtaposition of punk and popularity. Jeremy tries to protect Abigail from Melissa's torment, and himself from temptation.
The supporting roles are all high school stereotypes, but their subtle asides, eye rolls, and snickers are reminiscent of how apathetic teenagers would actually act in a theater class. This speaks to the quality of both the acting and directing, and shows that while BLAME has a dramatic storyline, the characters aren't over-the-top or unbelievable.
When Jeremy gives Abigail a ride home after she's stood up by the jock playing her lover in The Crucible, he offers to fill the role instead. In the casual way he talks to her, it's almost easy to miss that this is a wildly inappropriate suggestion for a teacher to make to a student.
It's clear the film serves as a meta representation of The Crucible, but whom you may think of as the villain continuously shifts as the story develops. Melissa is the obvious antagonist, but Abigail is also villainized because she continues to pursue Jeremy despite his (eventual) unwillingness. And of course, Jeremy is an easy villain because he's the only adult above the age of consent. This movie calls to question, 'Who's the bad guy?' and answers with, 'Whoever is easiest to blame.'
Additionally, while this story sheds light on some ugly topics (including some graphic discussion of sexual assault), the film itself is easy to look at. The use of lighting and artistic sequence editing help set a melancholy mood, especially in the scenes with Abigail and Jeremy.
The shared narrative between characters questions modern day morality, and more specifically it questionsThe Crucible's portrayal of its villain, Abigail, who has served as the hallmark lesson against provacativity for decades.
BLAME challenges notions of victimhood and revenge, while simultaneously considering how trauma and sexual assault are viewed in society. This movie is important, refreshing, and hard to watch — which is why it should be seen.
Top photo from BLAME, Brigade Marketing
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Brianna is a BUST editorial intern from Indiana. After finishing her bachelor's in telecommunication news and journalism from Ball State University, she went to Syracuse for her master's in arts journalism. She likes writing about movies, performance art and advocacy. You can follow her on Twitter @BriKirk, and reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.