After a brilliantly done, nightmarish first twenty minutes where three students experience an unimaginable tragedy at their school, The Fallout attempts to examine grief and trauma to murky results.
HBO Max has released the first film on their crowded 2022 release slate. Much like the month of January itself, The Fallout is about resetting – putting life back together following a life changing event (2021 wasn’t necessarily lifechanging, it was just a doozy). This is done through the eyes of Vada (Jenna Ortega), who is content with being a “lowkey” high schooler letting the waning days of innocence and freedom wash over her like a Starbucks coffee.
When she experiences a school shooting alongside two students, Mia and Quinton, the three of them develop a bond of reliability. In order to return to some sort of normalcy, they’ll have to go through the stages together.
The Fallout is presented through the digital lens. A movie made for the social media era built on TikTok trends and emo rap music. What feels desolate and distant suddenly becomes a reality standing straight ahead.
This isn’t always portrayed effectively on screen for each character. The film focuses mostly on Vada – her life at home, her connection with her sister, her friends who want to use this tragedy to spark change, etc. When it focuses on these externalities and moves away from the core narrative, it loses energy and drive.
The film has good intentions. Vada’s struggle to commit to each of her different relationships as she tries to internally move on from this event is clearly stated, but it makes for a messy movie. Quinton (Niles Fitch) is billed as a main character. The tragedy most closely affects him. Unfortunately, he’s thought of as a side-character and only shows up for a couple scenes.
The same thing can be said for Shailene Woodley, who plays Vada’s therapist but only makes an appearance in two scenes. When the film commits to so many different story-arcs and plotlines, it doesn’t quite fulfill any of them.
It’s a brave and honest story, one that I can admire. It has the perfect tone and is carried by a heartbreaking Jenna Ortega showing. I didn’t hate the time spent after the credits started, but I was hoping for a bit more. Something that would blow me away. Unfortunately, I left it lukewarm.
The film smartly chooses what to show and what to hide in its most important moments, particularly the beginning scenes, but for a movie titled The Fallout, the fallout isn’t all that visceral. The movie floats on by. Some may really dig it and find it powerful. I found it circling itself without a strong kicker.