THE FALLING

5 out of 10

Release Date: 24th April 2015

Director: Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life)

Cast: Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Maxine Peake, Monica Dolan, Joe Cole, Anna Burnett, Morfydd Clark, Rose Caton with Mathew Baynton and Greta Scacchi

Writer: Carol Morley

Trailer: THE FALLING

mkt-posterTheFalling_V-7LowRes.jpg

This oddity has a masterpiece contained in it, but overall its a muddle of storylines that bewitch then alienate in equal number. A strong start and a good set-up is squandered as the story throws in a gigantic plot turn from which it never recovers. To be more specific, the film has the wind taken out of its sales and then it drops in a further plot clanger which is at odds with the rest of the film.

None of it is the fault of the cast, nor is it the directors. The fault lies in the script (by director Carol Morley) which shuts off its beating heart early on. The void is replaced by a sotry that seems to being made up as it goes. There’s a bit of incest between the main character and her brother and it just sits in the film like an unwelcome guest, as it doesn’t really connect to the storyline, so it’s frankly an ill-judged gross-out.

Kudos for the early scenes goes to lead Maisie Williams (GAME OF THRONES) and newcomer Florence Pugh, as the two inseparable school friends. Pugh plays Abbie, who has just begun to have sex with boys, whilst the besotted Lydia is enthralled. Lydia’s brother, Kenneth (JOE COLE – GREEN ROOM) is also in her awe. When Abbie begins to have a spate of fainting fits, the other girls begin to mimic her, or is there more to it? Throw in a bit of incest and a weird performance by the usually brilliant Maxine Peake (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) as Lydia’s shut-in mother. Elsewhere Greta Scacchi (PRESUMED INNOCENT) and Monica Dolan (W1A) impress as the bemused teachers.

The film is very stylish but after a point it refuses to dip beneath the surface of the strange world of girls schools and the connected hysteria that causes mass fainting fits. But it fails to connect with the confused characters so we’re left with an reasonably good attempt to present something original but it pales by comparison to the forgotten Andrea Scott film Cracks and any passing resemblance to Picnic At Hanging Rock is just cosmetic.

5 out of 10 – Shame that this doesn’t go deeper and is just satisfied with being a bonkers arthouse movie instead. A very good first half hints at what could have been.

Second review below by Matt Usher

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

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One thought on “THE FALLING

  1. Review by Matt Usher

    I guess there may be other meanings implicit in this seemingly poetic, allusive and possibly metaphorical title, but I didn’t expect it to be literal. Yes, this is a film about people falling over. (I know, I know, there’s lots of other stuff going on, but … well … a lot of people do fall over in the film, and I wasn’t expecting that. I thought it’d refer more to failure or sadness or autumn or adolescence or sex or witchcraft or trees or apples or an alien-related apocalypse, but no, the film features lots of people fainting a lot.) (And I’m genuinely sorry to be starting a review like this because I know this is a ‘proper’ film and there have been awards and people (someone in the Independent according to Wikipedia) calling it ‘beguiling and disturbing, a beautifully made and very subtle affair that combines melodrama, rites of passage and supernatural elements in an utterly intriguing way’, but in the end they’ve made a film about people falling over and called it THE FALLING and … sorry, but I just don’t think that’s very good quite frankly. Hmph.) (I think it’s fair to say I’m not keen.) (In case you weren’t sure.)

    It’s 1969 and we’re in a girls’ school, the sort which had probably once seen better days but isn’t yet on its last legs. It looks at first like it’s going to be all about bullying and pecking orders, but fortunately our protagonists aren’t involved in any of that well-worn sort of stuff, but they are nevertheless high up in the chain of command, and one of the film’s strengths is in how it shows the fluidity of school hierarchies and friendships.

    Florence Pugh briefly plays one of the star pupils, who has also taken the lead as far as boys are concerned, which has disappointed/intrigued her lieutenant, Lydia (Maisie Williams). Obviously, this being a film, Pugh has already got pregnant, but then mysteriously falls dead. Soon afterwards, seemingly led by Lydia, everyone starts suffering from fainting fits, a malaise which even starts spreading to the teachers. Is it a deliberate conspiracy (like the end of DEAD POETS’ SOCIETY but with everyone falling over rather than standing up?), or some manifestation of mass hysteria, or something even more mysterious? So that’s the big mystery of the film, but the film doesn’t so much leave the question unanswered so much as almost unexplored: the teachers, doctors and pupils are all clueless, which is fair enough, but after a while the film gets bored with its own enigma and veers off after a seemingly unrelated incest subplot for the final reel. (I’m sure it’s intrinsic to the film but it doesn’t feel like it.)

    The film focuses on Lydia, who is the hardest hit both by the death of her friend and by the fainting, which at times becomes (unintentionally I’m sure) comic. And then her right eye starts twitching, which, well, I grew up watching Herbert Lom in the Clouseau films, so … maybe I couldn’t take that as seriously as it deserved. I understand that Maisie Williams has been much praised for Game of Thrones, and I know she got awards for this, but I’ve only seen her in two roles (and the other one isn’t Arye/Aria/Airy/Arry Stark), and she’s good, very good maybe (the way she’s different depending on who she’s with for example: doting on her best friend, being obnoxious to her mum, rebellious towards the teachers), but she’s not amazing, and this film needed an amazing performance at its heart, not least to distract from its uncertain structure.

    There are dependable supporting turns from the likes of Maxine Peake (though I’m not sure what accent she was attempting), Greta Scacchi and Monica Dolan (they get the best exchange of dialogue in a ‘kids-don’t-know-they’re-born’ scene). The younger members of the cast are adequate but don’t get much to do other than fall over.

    The film does look good though. The school is strangely dusty yet antiseptic, and Lydia’s home (where her mum is an agoraphobic hairdresser) has a surreal feel to it (unfortunately the story manages to stuff the house with every grim-oop-north / kitchen-sink-drama trope going, but there’s something about the look of the place which is unsettling).

    The film paints itself into a corner as it doesn’t really want to come up with a rational explanation for the fainting outbreak, but nor does it seem to want to come up with an irrational one. It tries to keep things mysterious so the story takes a sharp turn and pursues a subplot (which dollops in some incest and misery) which despite being irrelevant ends up taking over the film so that the grand finale (which feels like it’s been crowbarred in by a worried producer and involves a tree and the possibility of further falling) has nothing to do with anything and it’s as if the fainting thing was just one of those things and not really all that important at all, just silly girls being silly girls. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t the impression the film originally intended to give.

    The film (or the DVD at least) is a little mis-sold: the DVD cover says it’s a horror and deals with the supernatural. This is a downright lie; the film tries to operate on much more subtle levels. There’s something very studied and deliberate about it all, staid and starchy. I know that’s in part the atmosphere the film-makers were attempting, but it’s a staid film, not a film about a staid environment. There are some great scenes and nice lines and interesting characters, but they get munched up by a story which doesn’t go anywhere. This should have been a creepy, disturbing and difficult to pin down tale where secrets are investigated only to lead to more secrets, and where nothing quite makes sense. Instead it’s a surprisingly leaden construction which trundles along, barely acknowledging how fascinating it should have been.
    END

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