A devastatingly topical drama surrounding a school shooting and the emotional and psychological damage such a tragedy can cause for its survivors, The Fallout takes a quieter, more intimate look at the unseen faces – those that aren’t framed in the media as “a survivor”, merely fellow students who are unsure how to navigate their place in the halls of an institution they no longer feel safe in.
Megan Park‘s film has an almost documentary-type feel to it in its opening moments as Jenna Ortega‘s Vada preps for a school day like any other. Giving us just enough of an insight to understand her character’s personality, the film’s sudden ascent to its thematically violent moment (all thankfully off-screen) brings Vada unexpectedly close with another student (Maddie Ziegler‘s Mia, the dancer-turned actress faring much better here than in the recent Music), someone who she’d never cross paths with in any other circumstance.
Bonded to Mia by tragedy and spurred to test her own limits by experimenting with drugs and her own sexuality, Vada rebels against those that care for her, unsure what surviving such a tragedy was meant to symbolise. Given that Vada does spiral so drastically, it would be easy to assume that this act of experimental rebellion is a response to both the shooting and a testing home life, but, perhaps in a bid to suggest that even the most stable households can’t prevent a revolt as such, Park presents Vada’s parents (John Ortiz and Julie Bowen) as incredibly stable and understanding. There’s almost an irony in the narrative that it’s the perfect presentation of Mia that’s masquerading in order to hide the fact that her home life feels remarkably disconnected and lonely.
Films like The Fallout often live or die by their authenticity, and Park has wisely assembled a cast that all lean in to the film’s realistic mentality, with Ortega and Ziegler presenting an honest portrayal of two very different iterations of a teenage girl, both ultimately tethered in unison at their core; there’s almost an irony in how each character is framed, with the mean-girl, vapid appearance of Mia not at all in line with her personality, whilst Vada’s everyday temperament ultimately gives way to characteristics that are harmful to herself and those around her.
Making sure not to glamourise the topic at hand, Park has created an organic, snap-shot of a movie that runs high on emotion and wisely doesn’t neatly wrap everything up, indicating that recovery is never as instant as you want it to be. This isn’t a movie about “fixing” its characters, it’s about preparing them for a world that is unfortunately laced with uncertainty.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Fallout is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between March 16th and 20th, 2021. For more information head to the official SXSW website.