The Fallout Movie Review
It’s a scene that leaves you breathless: teenager Vada (Jenna Ortega) goes to the bathroom at her school, where she runs into the much more popular Mia (Maddie Ziegler). But moments later, after hearing a series of gunshots and the screams of their classmates, they find themselves standing on a toilet together in a stall, trembling in fear. The horrors of the school shooting occur off screen, but felt in every riveting second nonetheless.
It’s the defining scene of Megan Park’s searing The Fallout, winner of South by Southwest’s Grand Jury Prize in the Narrative Feature Film Competition, but it’s only the beginning of the movie’s gripping exploration into trauma, grief, and recovery.
Ortega delivers a fierce performance in the lead role, carrying us along her character’s emotional journey. The journey, as you might expect, goes to unexpected places, an unpredictable sequence of false starts, poor decisions, and outbursts that you’d expect from anyone who has suffered from such a traumatic experience, and most notably an emotional teenager who doesn’t yet know how to sort or manage her own grief.
Ziegler is also excellent as Mia.
There are moments where the movie edges into absurdity. A drug-fueled sequence that has Vada literally dripping down a stairwell at her school seems a little out of place, for example. Even still, Park, who wrote and directed the drama, knows, understands, and wants to convey the after-effects of school shootings, to demonstrate that there are countless victims beyond the killed and injured who receive most of the outward attention. No one reacts quite the same to trauma, and the recovery process is one of fits and starts, and extremes.
The Fallout is an excellent film that deserves every plaudit thrown its way; the story centers around a not-pleasant topic, yet Park, leaning heavily on Ortega’s natural charisma and charm, makes the heaviness of the material accessible, and in turn all the more effective.
This movie was reviewed as part of coverage for the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.