Chris Messina in Blame (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Debut feature filmmaker Quinn Shephard stars (and writes, produces, and directs) as Abigail, a high school student coming back to school after mysteriously leaving the year before. Heavily influenced by theater, Abigail is constantly bullied for her past and her flair for the dramatics. As the new school year goes on, a substitute teacher, Jeremy (Chris Messina), gives Abigail the role of Abigail Williams in a showcase production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, in which Abigail is perceived to be seductive and powerful. Slowly, Abigail adopts the persona of Abigail Williams, making her break out of her shell and begins an affair with Jeremy, somewhat mirroring the plot in Miller’s play. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before other students in the school begin to notice.

Shephard mentions in several interviews that she originally wrote the screenplay at the age of 15 and then continued to build upon it and polish it as time went on. The raw emotion of the characters is something out of a dramatic teenage nightmare and easily reveal exactly what time period Shepard began constructing the script. The only ones who could write these situations so well are those who are just as dramatic, high schoolers. Blame is no masterpiece, but the anger, frustration, and the need to belong in its female leads are real, and quite refreshing.

Slowly, over the course of the movie, Abigail and Jeremy begin to dance around each other in a romantic way. In the climax, after a heated blocking rehearsal, the two kiss and abruptly pull apart after they hear a distant noise in the back of the auditorium. Eventually though, the kissing leads to sex, the ultimate taboo.

Despite the passionate and powerful acting from the mostly female cast, the story of a student and teacher affair feels quite stale. There is the twist of an edgy cheerleader, Melissa (Nadia Alexander), attempting to seduce the teacher to get some sort of bizarre revenge against Abigail, but overall, it really doesn’t bring anything to the table. The tension builds slowly but surely, but after the first kiss, every other dramatic scene feels like it’s trying to one-up the previous scene

Despite its shortcomings, Blame gets teenage desperation right. Out of the four main girls, there is something in each of them that screams anxiety in a realistic way. Abigail clearly wants to feel like she’s good at something (acting or winning Jeremy’s admiration), that she’s not some weird girl. Melissa painfully wants to have all eyes on her, for reasons good or bad, and does so by acting out. Sophie (Sarah Mezzanotte) wants to please Melissa but also wants to have her own power, which results in her destroying a friendship with Ellie. Ellie (Tessa Albertson), the quiet best friend of Sophie, feels bad for Abigail and wants to escape the life she lives and does so by writing in a journal. All of these are incredibly real ways that teens act out and prove that young women on screen can be multifaceted.

Ultimately, in terms of its plot, Blame lacks freshness and excitement, but the script shows Quinn Shephard’s promise and ability to write strong and compelling women.

Written and Directed by Quinn Shephard
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films
USA. 100 min. Not rated
With Chris Messina, Quinn Shephard, Nadia Alexander, Tale Donovan, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Tessa Albertson, and Sarah Mezzanotte