High school is an almost universally miserable experience — that’s the bad news. On the other hand, the stormy period of adolescence provides us with a constant source of angst-ridden cinema. Quinn Shephard’s directorial debut, Blame, leans heavily on this persistent despair, yes, but also leverages it in innovative and occasionally startling ways.
Shephard stars as Abigail, nicknamed “Sybil” by her high school’s version of the Heathers in honor of some unspoken (and presumably unspeakable) past events. Her dreaded return to school after an absence takes an unexpectedly pleasant turn when she lands the lead role in the drama class production of The Crucible. Unfortunately, the ringleader of her antagonists, Melissa (Nadia Alexander) — both chafing at being relegated to understudy and jealous of the connection between Abigail and drama teacher Mr. Woods (The Mindy Project’s Chris Messina) — resolves to sabotage her.
Blame takes familiar subject matter like the taboo of the teacher-student relationship and subverts it somewhat (though not overly so, there’s a scene straight out of that Police song on the subject), while also humanizing Abigail’s antagonists (Melissa doesn’t have the most nurturing home life), with the hapless Mr. Woods caught in the middle.
In her first directorial effort, Shephard captures the repetitive tedium of high school, the fixed obsession so dangerously peculiar to adolescents, and the thoughtlessness of men in general, all with Arthur Miller’s famously allegorical text as a backdrop. It’s a deliberate film, and a brilliantly constructed one as well. We definitely haven’t heard the last of Quinn Shephard.
Written and directed by Quinn Shephard
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Opens January 5, Village East
Available on demand