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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

CineHawk: “The Fallout”


The feature film debut of writer and director Megan Park, “The Fallout,” is an intimate character study of a teenager struggling to cope with the unimaginable trauma of a school shooting. The film stars Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Lumi Pollack, Julie Bowen, John Ortiz and Niles Fitch. It is currently available to stream on HBO Max.

“The Fallout” tells the story of Vada, played by Ortega, a 16-year-old high school student whose life is turned upside down on a seemingly normal day. While answering a text from her sister Amelia, played by Pollack, Vada is forced to barricade herself in a bathroom with fellow students Mia and Quinton, played by Ziegler and Fitch respectively, when a terrifying school shooting erupts. Though she is not
physically harmed in the incident, Vada is deeply traumatized and struggles to move on with her life.

Eschewing the unnecessary indulgence of spectacle that plagues so many teen dramas, “The Fallout” is unflinchingly committed to bringing emotional honesty to its narrative. Park’s direction at times seems to be indebted to the “slice-of-genre,” emphasizing the mundane, moment-to-moment activities and interactions of the characters. This approach not only easily allows the audience to connect with the
protagonists but also makes it all the more gut-wrenching when we hear the first shots.

Where a lesser director would have focused on the graphic details of the incident, Park wisely and sensitively keeps the violence offscreen. Instead, we are trapped with Vada, Mia and Quinton as they hear every shot, and the blood on Quinton’s shirt becomes the only visual indicator of the carnage being unleashed in the school. This is a respectful choice that better serves the movie’s exploration of the
psychological consequences of surviving a mass shooting. Instead of inflicting Vada with physical injury, the film focuses on her mental scars, which drive her increasing sense of isolation.

On the screenwriting front, Park succeeds in creating a believable high school environment filled with compelling and dynamic characters. The first 15 minutes expertly establish Vada as your typical carefree teenager and help us understand what she lost after the shooting occurs. Mia at first comes across as an ordinary teenage influencer but is revealed to have a lot more depth as she and Vada grow
closer. While Quinton receives the least amount of focus, the story gives just enough context clues to discern that he is undergoing a similar journey to Vada.

This superb characterization is supplemented by the performances of the cast. Ortega brilliantly sells all the different facets of her character, accurately portraying trauma and teenage existential angst. Ziegler plays Mia with a subdued disposition that slowly melts to reveal her hidden layers. Fitch makes Quinton charming and down-to-earth, while subtly weaving in a more quiet pain than what the audience may be expecting.

Though 2022 has just begun, “The Fallout” is already a standout film. It boasts stellar direction, an amazing cast and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack composed by Finneas O’Connell.

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