Directed by: Carol Morley
Premise: After a tragedy takes the life of a student at an English girls school, the student body is struck by an epidemic of fainting and other fugue-like symptoms.
What Works: The Falling is a movie about burgeoning womanhood and it has some extraordinary things in it. This is a movie where the setting is extremely important. The movie takes place at a British all-girls school, the epitome of repression, but it is also set in the late 1960s, when the Western world was on the cusp of second wave feminism. The Falling is about girls who are in the midst of becoming women and their growth into thinking and feeling adults bunches up against the boundaries of school rules, social expectations, and traditional gender roles. The film begins by centering on two friends, Lydia (Masie Williams) and Abbie (Florence Pugh). Abbie is in a sexual relationship with Lydia’s brother which results in a pregnancy that kills her. Following Abbie’s death, Lydia, many of the other students, and one of the younger female teachers begin suffering from fainting spells and other seizure-like episodes that no one can explain. The filmmakers smartly keep the cause ambiguous. The phenomenon might be physiological, it could be a group psychosis, or it may even be supernatural. The conceit of The Falling is probably best taken metaphorically; the fainting is a physicalization of the inner turmoil of these young women and that is largely linked to anxiety around sex and pregnancy. A great deal of emphasis is placed on modesty as enforced by the school dress code and sexuality is a way of rebelling against a repressive system. However, The Falling is more complicated than the virgin-whore binary that this implies. Sexuality—and with it the responsibilities of womanhood—don’t guarantee freedom and come with their own risks. That plays out among the older women of the movie, who quietly nurse their own anxieties, and in the difficult relationship between Lydia and her mother (Maxine Peake) and brother (Joe Cole). The mother is socially paralyzed and never leaves the house and that contributes to a dysfunctional relationship between brother and sister. With The Falling,director Carol Morley has created a film that is reminiscent of Blue Velvet-era David Lynch or Maps to the Stars-era David Cronenberg (although The Falling is better than much of Cronenberg’s recent work). It has a similar style and it reveals the sickness seething underneath polite society.
What Doesn’t: The Falling suffers from some crude or unprofessional filmmaking flaws. The biggest problem of the movie is the sound. It is frequently terrible and the dialogue sounds as though it was recorded on lapel microphones. Whenever characters talk there is a distracting hiss on the soundtrack accompanied by other incidental noise. A lot of folly sounds are mixed poorly; the volume is out of proportion with the visuals of any given scene. The music is a mixed bag. Some of the songs are quite effective but the filmmakers reuse the same song a little too much. The songs are also anachronistic. The film takes place in 1969 but the music is very contemporary. The Falling also suffers from some poorly staged action. The placement of the camera is sometimes awkward. The subjects and the action aren’t framed in a way that draws the eye to the point of the scene and a few sequences play out in master shots without sufficient coverage. Per its premise, The Falling has many scenes of women and girls fainting and it’s quite obvious that they are stage falling so as not to hurt themselves. That can be done in a theater production but in the cinema form it often looks silly and that is frequently the case here.
Bottom Line: The Falling is a good effort by writer/director Carol Morley. This movie has a lot in it that is thoughtful and provocative but at the same time the movie suffers from occasionally substandard filmmaking.
Episode: #555 (August 16, 2015)