Finishing up my last review of SXSW Film Festival with “THE FALLOUT”, which was hands down one of the best films of the festival. Rather than being just a film on gun control, instead the films takes us through the various reactions and interactions that each person affected by it has after such an horrific event as a school shooting.
Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) is a 16 year old high school student who find herself in the school restroom when she hears gunfire starting up. We never see the shooter or the actual shooting itself, instead writer/director Megan Park starts the story from the point of view of Vada and Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler), as they find themselves hiding in the bathroom stall together in sheer terror of what’s happening outside of the bathroom. While in the stall, a battered young student Quinton (Niles Fitch), runs in to escape the gunfire as well and joins them. It’s important to note that none of them are friends with one another, as it happens to be in most schools, they are in very different friendship circles. Mia is the ‘popular’ girl, and one that Vada and her best friend Will (Nick Ropp), would probably never be friends with, and would also be the ones to make snarky comments about behind her back – most likely something done vise versa with Mia and her friends as well.
Vada, Mia & Quinton form an unlikely bond after the shooting, as Vada’s and Will are having a hard time connecting afterwards. He has channeled what happened to him in a completely different manner than the other three and becomes an anti-gun activist and spokesperson. Vada’s parents, Carlos (John Ortiz) and Patricia (Julie Bowen), are at a loss of how to help their daughter deal with something that no parent should ever have to. Taking the brunt of Vada’s complete change of life is her younger sister Amelia (Lumi Pollack), with whom she was very close to and now has no idea how to even talk about the most basic things of daily life with. Vada and Mia both struggle with their emotions, and start to depend on each other, while Quinton has some serious fallout to deal with as his brother was a victim of the shooting. Not only does he have grief to deal with, but the impact and toll it has taken on him as well, though eventually he and Vada get closer, though not in the way she tries to be. Unable to talk to her parents or deal with her younger sister, Vada does end up seeing a Anna (Shailene Woodley), a therapist with whom she finds it hard to open up to as her life has been forever altered by this tragic event.
With these type of shootings happening weekly here before the pandemic and now once again as things slowly ‘return to normal’, it’s beyond painful to see what anyone has to deal with during such a horrific event, but it’s so much worse when it’s kids. Kids who simply went to school that morning and never make it home and those that survive, aren’t equipped yet to deal with such trauma. It’s no wonder that the films portrays coping mechanisms such as alcohol, sex, and smoking some joints in attempts at self-healing by Vada and her friends. The film also doesn’t shy away from the difficulties they face in returning to school – or returning to anything resembling normalcy after attending the numerous memorial services for their classmates. Again, the writing and direction that Park shows, allows us the audience, to experience every aspect of Vada’s recovery, the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. And then, when we are least expecting it, throws us a gut-punch of an ending that stuns you to the core of your being.
Performances are key here and keep a strong eye on Jenna Ortega as you won’t forget this performance anytime soon and are sure to be seeing a lot of her in the future. Add in the strong writing and direction from Grace Park, and this film is sure to be one to stick with you for a long time to come.
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Review screening: Courtesy of Prodigy Public Relations
“THE FALLOUT” PREMIERED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL – FULL RELEASE DATE TBA