Blame is a visually striking, if slightly conventional, debut film from 22 year-old writer/director Quinn Shephard.
Shephard also stars in Blame as Abigail, a loner high school junior who returns to her vicious suburban New Jersey high school after a mysterious leave of absence due to mental health issues. Abigail is immediately greeted with bullying from Melissa (Nadia Alexander) and her gang of mean girls, who seem to want nothing more than to make Abigail’s life miserable. Abigail only finds solace in handsome drama teacher Jeremy (Chris Messina), and her role in his production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Blame then follows Abigail between her growing infatuation with her teacher and the backstage drama with mean girl Melissa, who is cast as Abigail’s understudy in the lead role of The Crucible.
Shephard and Messina both deliver strong performances, cementing Shephard’s place as a rising talent to watch and Messina’s as a consistently excellent character actor. Even when the script doesn’t quite flesh out their characters enough to justify their attraction, Shephard and Messina create two complex, profoundly lonely characters through their performances. Blame also features strong work from cinematographer Aaron Kovachik, who has the difficult task of making high school theater seem like the most important thing in the world. As a local from nearby Metuchen, New Jersey, where Blame was filmed, I was particularly impressed with the fantasy world that Kovachik creates around the suburbs in Blame.
Though Blame is billed as a twisted love triangle between Abigail, Melissa, and their drama teacher Jeremy, the film is most compelling when it deals with the dynamics between Melissa and her gang of mean girls. Shepherd gives them a lot more nuance that similar characters typically get in high school stories like this, and is smart to explore why they are so destructive.
Shepard’s resolution for why Melissa is the way she is feels a bit pat, as do several other beats in the film. Still, Blame is a strong debut from Shephard, and deserves to find U.S. distribution after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.