Having not seen Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life, it was hard to know what to expect from The Falling. A 1969 story happening on a girls-only school, where a tragedy happens and all the girls start fainting is not a bad premise at all. After all, Lucile Hadzihalolovic’s Innocence has an even loser plot and is still a great(er) film. So what went wrong with The Falling?
A quick synopsis: Abbie (Florence Pugh) has sex, she goes back to school and spends her days being a rebel (because, you know, having sex transforms every girl into a dangerous revolution machine) and hanging out with her mousey best friend Lydia (Maisie Williams). Obviously, Abbie is pregnant and starts fainting in school. Spoiler: she dies. Lydia goes mental and starts fainting, and then the whole school starts fainting as well. The school director doesn’t care because she’s a middle aged woman and, therefore, has no feelings. The only teacher that cares is the young and sexually active art teacher, that also starts fainting. There’s also Lydia’s desperate Housewife Mother and Kenneth, her nymphomaniac, incestuous and slightly pedo brother.
Apart from the issues one may have with a film that tries (?) to be about the fear of female sexuality while at the same time demonizing it, the biggest problem with The Falling is wanting to say a lot of things (and by saying we mean in the moralizing sense) and, at the end, leaving the audience with nothing. Something as simple as who is the main character is not that easy to answer, though for sure Abbie is the strongest character of them all by far. But even so, she is too two-dimensional to allow any real emotional connection. The only character that briefly crosses that line is, strangely enough, not Lydia (and don’t get me wrong, Williams does her best with what she’s given), but Miss Mantel (Greta Scacchi), the only one who acts as an actual human being in this surreal and silly story. In the end, creating a psychological drama where all character’s psyche’s are as complex and deep as a white sheet of paper is doomed to fail. To try to imprint some meaning and make the audience feel something, Morley goes for a random flash frame editing and a soundtrack so unfitting and annoying that the next time I hear a xylophone I may as well puke.
The only two redeeming qualities of the film are its cinematography by Agnès Godard, a usual collaborator of controversial, experimental directors, and the fact that despite the lack of a strong script and vision, Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh manage to show their acting potential – though we wish both of them to find a better venue to shine soon.
The Falling is on UK cinemas from 25th April 2015