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  Blame An Apple For Teacher
Year: 2017
Director: Quinn Shephard
Stars: Quinn Shephard, Nadia Alexander, Chris Messina, Tate Donovan, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Tessa Albertson, Luke Slattery, Owen Campbell, Sarah Mezzanotte, Larry Mitchell, Marcia DeBonis, Geneva Carr, Elizabeth Howell, Carlyle Owens
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Abigail Grey (Quinn Shephard) is horrified to be told she will be starting back at high school again, having been away for much of the previous school year thanks to a nervous breakdown her fellow pupils believe was triggered by caring too much about her English class's set text of Sybil, the multiple personality syndrome autobiography. There's no doubt she is easily led by things around her, and on her return she has affected a limp and gathered a collection of ornaments as she read in The Glass Menagerie. One girl is furious to see Abigail back: she is Melissa Bowman (Nadia Alexander), and she makes up her mind to make her classmate's life sheer hell from now on...

What was most notable about Blame, behind the scenes at least, was that it was constructed and produced by a teenage girl. She had help, mostly from her mother Laurie Shephard, but after writing the film at age fifteen and undergoing a lot of refining in script and performance, Quinn Shephard had the whole thing in the can by the time she was twenty years old. Maybe we should not be so surprised in this world where recording devices are so much a part of young people's lives, therefore it is perhaps more surprising there aren't more teenage filmmakers, but not many would secure distribution and more importantly, a reaction that generally avoided the patronising.

When you watched Blame, there was a nebulous quality to it that was either intentionally enigmatic or the results of the big themes not being as focused as Shephard would have liked, but we got the idea for the most part. This was akin to one of those troublesome teens thrillers that erupted in the nineteen-nineties, when for some reason there was a fear of what a young girl could do to wreak havoc in the lives of law-abiding folk, apparently thanks to being sexually irresistible, or enough to be troubling to those around them anyway, but Shephard was not interested in a do-over of The Crush or Poison Ivy (though to be fair the latter was more nuanced than its trashy reputation, so...).

It had been Arthur Miller's The Crucible that inspired the author, seeing in it more than an excoriation of the scapegoaters and witch hunters of the world, and divining a terror of female sexuality that the patriarchy - and the ultra-conservative women who prop it up - sought to repress by essentially murdering anyone who stepped out of line. No one was murdered in Blame, though like its contemporary Thoroughbreds it would not have been wholly out of place given the emotions running high throughout, but the rivalry for attention, good and bad, between Abigail and Melissa interestingly explored that psychological tenet that any attention is craved by many, no matter how it highlighted them in their social circle (and beyond) the point was that they had been noticed. And if the right person notices them, so much the better.

Abigail, now rid of her Tennessee Williams preoccupation, embraced the villain character from The Crucible, where we're not very sure if she will self-destruct or destroy Melissa through manipulation. Certainly her tormentor is not angling for sympathy, yet we begin to understand her when her background is fleshed out, not that everything in these characters' histories was spelled out for us. This could be a drawback when a vagueness was built into the screenplay, no matter how many drafts it had taken to get that far, but the familiar plotline of a student (Abby) seducing her teacher (Chris Messina as Jeremy Woods) was twisted so that there were no real villains. That could be a deal breaker for many, as Woods was portrayed as just as confused by his emotions as the two girls using him as a battleground which was not how such unhappy relationships played out in real life, according to news reports, but it was provocative to keep you watching even as Shephard eschewed titillation, preferring a watchful sadness. Music by Pierre-Philippe Côté - with songs by the writer-director-star!
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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