Review by Sean Boelman
Winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at this year’s SXSW, Megan Park’s drama The Fallout really wants to be something special, but instead ends up feeling cheap and ineffective. Although the performances are strong, the script fumbles its weighty themes in a way that is consistently frustrating.
The film tells the story of a teenager who, after experiencing a tragedy at school, struggles to cope with the emotional fallout, causing changes to her relationships and psyche. This is a case of a movie that clearly has the best of intentions but ends up defeating itself with lackluster and misguided execution.
There is a fundamental issue with this film, and it is that it seems to care less about the trauma that the protagonist is experiencing and more about the way in which she is acting out because of it. Although there is something to be said about how victims tend to hide away their trauma and put up a facade, this movie doesn’t portray the character much differently than a normal angsty teen.
The film also does a disservice to its supporting characters. There is one character who becomes socially active as a result of his experiences, but for the most part, this is a very one-track depiction of grief and trauma. It fails to explore the differing ways in which people struggle to understand their emotions after a tragedy such as this.
Thankfully, Park is mostly very sensitive about the way in which she approaches the topic itself. The scene in which the tragedy occurs is short and done in a way that is harrowing without showing too much. Unlike a lot of other movies that have been about school violence, this one didn’t come across as exploitative or opportunist.
There is one highlight in the film, and it is the lead actress, Jenna Ortega. She brings a lot of emotion to a character that isn’t particularly subtle in the way it is written, still managing to make her feel real despite some of the exaggerated qualities. And in the supporting cast, Shailene Woodley and John Ortiz both do a good job, although their roles are quite small.
On a technical level, the movie shows its small budget, but it can’t be faulted too much for that. However, the lo-fi qualities of the film don’t come together well with the script that is oftentimes a bit heavy-handed, resulting in a feel that is often less than satisfying. A few great scenes aside, the movie feels like a heavily independent production in the worst ways.
The Fallout seems like the type of film that won its honor based on the merit of what it wanted to be rather than what it is. There are definitely some glimpses of greatness in here, but it takes wading through a lot of mediocrity to get there.
The Fallout screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.