Directed by: Megan Park
Premise: After a mass shooting, a high school student (Jenna Ortega) bonds with a new friend (Maddie Ziegler) and experiments with drugs and alcohol while withdrawing from her family.
What Works: The Fallout does an excellent job staging the school shooting. We never see the carnage but we do hear the gunshots while three students shelter together. The filmmakers get the way in which the attack comes out of nowhere. It is a violent intrusion into otherwise peaceful and mundane lives and upsets the teenager’s sense of security and stability. The attack sequence perfectly sets up the rest of the story in which survivors cope with their trauma and struggle to relate to those who cannot understand what they have been through. Something The Fallout does especially well is dramatize the delayed effects of trauma. Different characters process and cope with their shock in different ways and the effects do not show up right away. Jenna Ortega’s character at first appears shaken but mostly fine; the impacts of the shooting gradually manifest in her life and the character’s fight or flight response is triggered by various nonviolent stimuli. The film also dramatizes the divide between those who directly experienced the attack and those who didn’t. Ortega’s character cannot communicate with her family and becomes increasingly isolated. Where the filmmakers really outdo themselves is in the ending. Ortega’s character puts herself on a path toward reconciliation and the movie is headed toward a more or less happy ending. The very last scene is a perfect ending, paralleling the suddenness of the opening attack and leaving the viewer on an appropriately distressing moment.
What Doesn’t: The Fallout is focused on Jenna Ortega’s character and she comes across uniquely impacted by the shooting. Her friends also struggle in the aftermath but the film gives the impression that the rest of the student body is mostly unaffected even though they’ve all been through the same experience. The trajectory of Ortega’s character doesn’t reach much of a climax. The filmmaker’s restraint is admirable; much of The Fallout is impressively naturalistic and credible but Ortega’s character is missing a decisive crisis point that prompts her to recognize her problems and take control of her life. One aspect of The Fallout that comes across artificial is the subplot of Maddie Ziegler’s character, a fellow high school student from a wealthy home. Her family is never around. While this might be representative of some teenager’s real lives, the complete absence of her family doesn’t come across credible.
Disc extras: On HBO Max.
Bottom Line: The Fallout is an effective drama. It’s not a political piece nor is it violent. Instead, The Fallout dramatizes life in the aftermath of a mass shooting and the ongoing human toll that these tragedies take on the survivors.
Episode: #935 (January 15, 2023)