It’s 1969 at a strict English girls’ school where charismatic Abbie and intense and troubled Lydia are best friends. After a tragedy occurs at the school, a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out threatening the stability of all involved.
I don’t tend to watch Film 2015 on BBC, but one of the few times I did catch it they showed a feature afterwards for The Falling. The trailer gave this mysterious vibe about the goings on, a sense of unease and a film I wanted to be a part of. It looked unique and different, and then the reviews started pouring in for it – it quickly became a must-see film. With nothing to do on a Saturday for once, and with the potential of tying in a jaunt involving the many pubs in Clerkenwell, plus add in the factor of the Curzon charging through the arse to see any film on that day, I decided to sample the Barbican Centre nearby to see this highly rated British movie.
The Falling stars Masie Williams from Game of Thrones who plays Lydia, a clever-clogs teenager with the need to be socially validated at every turn who attends an all girls school in the middle of nowhere. Her promiscuous best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh) has recently discovered sex, and naturally a divide begins to emerge as she seeks sexual attention at every turn instead of her friends affection, which is happily bestowed upon her by Lydia’s weird older brother Kenneth. Set in the 1960’s, assumed by the haircuts being dished out by Lydias meltdown of a mother and the landmark events taking place on the black and white TV, this strict school they occupy serves as the backdrop for the mass epidemic of ‘falling’ that takes place shortly into the film.
The creepiness anticipated by the viewing of the trailer is realised, as the eerie soundtrack looms above the frightened girls struggling to comprehend the events taking place around them. The teachers embody those classic, horrible, hard nosed characters that every school had, never listening to a side of the story but their own and enforcing rules that seem to only worsen the situation. As it intensifies, it takes on a beautiful, weird, dreamlike experience, but one that perhaps peaks too soon.
Falling, and falling, and falling. This is the remainder of the film. My interest declines at the half way point, as little information is provided with regards to the falling, but it keeps on happening. The events are positioned to us as a mystery but there is no gradual reveal of the truth. Surely the purpose of the mystery is to piece together clues and form your own answer? Without any real hint of drip-fed information, I found my desire to continue watching, for want of a better word, falling. Instead, The Falling remains shrouded in ambiguity until its disappointing conclusion, where the reveal is shoved in your face so forcefully and with such melodrama you question if you have been watching the same film.
There are moments in the latter half that really jolt you, some very powerful scenes that had they not be preceded by a tedious plethora of collapsing girls would have stuck with me for some time. The solid script, eerie score, great performances from a nearly all female cast and excellent cinematography now play second fiddle to this mess, that has had all meaning sucked out of it by repetition and disappointment.
I am left with a sense of frustration. Carol Molley has demonstrated that she is more than capable after the incredible ‘Dreams of a Life’, and has created something here that showed so much promise in the opening half. However, it becomes too worried about keeping the mystery a mystery, and results in a one-dimensional, monotonous, fall-fest.
Note: The Barbican was a brilliant venue – well worth keeping in mind for all future releases.