In attempting to grapple with issues of bullying, mental health, burgeoning sexuality, and pedophilia, all while drawing parallels to The Crucible, Quinn Shephard’s Blame bites off more than it can chew. The film pits the shy, awkward Abigail (Shephard), who’s just returned to high school after months off for an unexplained mental breakdown, against Melissa (Nadia Alexander), the punk cheerleader whose status as the school’s head mean girl barely conceals the deep insecurities that indirectly contribute to her cruel actions. Melissa at first finds Abigail an easy target for scorn and is soon out for revenge when their handsome new substitute drama teacher, Jeremy (Chris Messina), takes a liking to the damaged Abigail and chooses her over Melissa to play the lead in their class’s performance of scenes from The Crucible.
Shephard uses this setup as means of exploring how Abigail and Melissa reveal their vulnerabilities in the process of craving male attention. Blame gradually brings into focus the way such weaknesses can riskily manifest themselves, as in Melissa tempting her best friend Sophie’s (Sarah Mezzanotte) boyfriend with sexy photos. The increasingly tumultuous battle at the center of the film is further fleshed out by Melissa’s friends, Sophie and Ellie (Tessa Albertson), who struggle with their own insecurities and misgivings when confronted by Melissa’s increasingly cruel behavior. Regrettably, though, such understanding and compassion for the contradictory impulses driving young women’s behavior isn’t extended to the film’s adult characters.
Throughout Blame, Jeremy remains little more than a cipher who’s seen as sympathetic and predatory by turns—a victim and a victimizer completely lacking in depth or motivations aside from being annoyed by a girlfriend (Trieste Kelly Dunn) who, rather than help him to keep his dream of working in the theater alive, wants him to pursue a full-time job. The film is also not very keen on mulling over Jeremy’s sexual indiscretion with Abigail, abruptly shifting its focus to Melissa’s troubling sexual history. It’s at this point that Melissa’s father, Robert (Tate Donovan), like Jeremy, is conspicuously propped up as a means to further explain the behavior of the film’s teenage characters. The sudden move toward exploring the roots of Melissa’s noxious behavior, while insightful in its own right, comes from so far out of leftfield that it’s too blatantly manipulative to land with any emotional heft.