THE FALLOUT (2021) is a difficult movie to watch. But everyone should watch it.
It’s the story of two high school students who survive a school shooting and then have to deal with its aftermath. The movie is painful and raw, yet tender and funny, and it does a commendable job covering a terrifying topic, school shootings, and at the end of the day does a brilliant job capturing the individual’s fight to take back their lives, to survive the fallout of living through a trauma, all the while having to face the fact that the adults in their world are doing so very little to prevent these events from happening again.
In THE FALLOUT, which is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max, Vada (Jenna Ortega), a quirky, awkward high school student, leaves class for the girl’s bathroom and there strikes up a conversation with Mia (Maddie Ziegler), a popular and very beautiful dancer who is making herself up for picture day, when suddenly they hear gun shots exploding from the hallways. In a panic, they both huddle and hide in one of the stalls, and over the next few minutes, hear repeated gunfire and screams, believing that at any moment they will die, as the gunfire grows louder and closer.
This sequence is absolutely chilling. Writer/director Megan Park captures the terror and the trauma of the moment.
Vada and Mia survive the shooting, but what comes next is its aftermath, and having to deal with processing the emotions of knowing they almost died, of knowing friends who died, and the fear that it could happen again. Vada asks Mia if she is having awful nightmares, and Mia answers by saying you have to be able to sleep to have nightmares.
Life changes dramatically for Vada. She has two supportive parents, her mom (Julie Bowen) and dad (John Ortiz), who want to be there for their daughter but don’t really know how. She has a precocious younger sister Amelia (Lumi Pollack) who thinks Vada hates her now because Vada has stopped talking to her. Her parents encourage her to return to school, but Vada doesn’t feel safe.
Instead, she spends most of her time with Mia, as the two girls— who didn’t really know each other before the shooting— admit to sharing a bond after the tragedy and find comfort in spending time with each other. As such, Mia’s other relationships suffer, like with her best friend Nick (Will Ropp), who decides that enough is enough, and sets out to become the public face of a student drive to stop future school shootings from happening. He wants Vada’s help, but she is nowhere to be found as she spends all her time with Mia. She also turns to alcohol and drugs, as the pain becomes so intense.
But with counseling, a strong sense of herself, a supportive family, and her newfound relationship with Mia, Vada keeps fighting through the demons and pushes her way towards getting her life back.
THE FALLOUT may be traumatic to watch, but it is not an exercise in hopelessness. The lack of legal and government efforts to stop school shootings may be hopeless, but the spirit and fight in both Vada and Mia is not. It’s a difficult process, but they both deal with the fallout.
THE FALLOUT is Megan Park’s directorial debut, and it’s as powerful a debut as one would want for a writer and director. THE FALLOUT takes a tragic topic, school shootings, and tells a true and human side of its story, about two high school students who have to go on with their lives after experiencing something awful that nobody should have to endure. The film doesn’t get political, doesn’t get into the gun control argument, it just tells the story of these two girls, and as a result works very, very well.
Jenna Ortega is wonderful as quirky Vada, and if the rest of the cast wasn’t also just as good, she would have stolen this movie. It’s an honest, humorous, and spot-on performance. Ortega does what the best actors do, which is in spite of the difficult emotions inside of Vada, she makes it so the audience knows exactly what Vada is thinking and feeling.
Maddie Ziegler makes Mia a sensitive student who in spite of her good looks and supposed confidence, is in reality someone who is just as insecure as Vada. The movie works so well because of the performances of these two leads.
Julie Bowen and John Ortiz add find support as Vada’s parents, and both get some of the best scenes in the movie. The sequence where her dad takes Vada to a quiet spot in the country and proceeds to encourage her to shout and swear her feelings into the countryside is one of the more empowering moments in the film. And later, when Vada tells her mom that she is finally prepared to be honest with her about what’s been going on, her mom smiles, until Vada unleashes everything she’s been doing recently in a rapid-fire monologue which leaves Mom speechless and grasping for a large glass of wine. It’s one of the few laugh-out-loud moments in the movie, which in spite of its subject matter, does make full use of some well-timed humor.
Don’t be pushed away by its traumatic subject matter. THE FALLOUT is definitely worth your time.
It’s early in the year, but THE FALLOUT is one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2022.