SXSW 2021: ‘The Fallout’ is a Sobering Film About Trauma and Survival

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The Fallout

The Fallout had its World Premiere at the virtual SXSW Film Festival 2021. A young adult story of trauma and healing, the film is written and directed by Megan Park and stars Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Julie Bowen, Lumi Pollack, and John Ortiz.

The Fallout is centered on high schooler Vada (Jenna Ortega) as she navigates the emotional fallout she experiences in the wake of a school shooting. When the moment happens, Vada is together with a girl she’s never met before, Mia (Maddie Ziegler). Vada and Mia aren’t the same at all. Mia is a dancer, good with make-up, dresses to embrace her femininity. And Vada doesn’t fix her hair, wears baggy clothes and basketball shorts, and tries just to be herself. But in that moment of fear and trauma, they’re the same.

By focusing on the aftermath, The Fallout dives headfirst into discussing the lasting impact of trauma on individuals, families, and relationships. This isn’t a film about a school shooting, so much as it is a film about the recovery from one. Or, at the very least, a look at the way trauma sticks with you even when the event is over.

We see Vada struggle. She has unrelenting nightmares. She attempts to pack the trauma away in a little box, the same way she does with the memorial pamphlets she collects from funerals. We see her stay home, watching reality television instead of going to a march. Ortega is an emotional force on screen, bringing a sense of sadness to every moment after the shooting, something just resting beneath the surface. She tries hard to mask it when around her family to keep her parents from worrying.

When she’s told to go to therapy by her parents in order to stay home, we get a glimpse into her emotional state. She makes jokes, deflects, and tries everything she can to minimize what she’s going through. She presents calm at all times, even when she’s in pain. Numb for Vada is better than “drama.”

The film also highlights what happens when Vada returns to school. The first time she has to go back into the bathroom that she hid in. And the lasting impact of returning to the place where you were emotionally traumatized. We see Vada break but also hide that from everyone around her. She self-medicates in secret. She keeps hiding, unable to maintain happy relationships with her family. Reacting to every can crush, every bump on a door. While her life and relationships are difficult to manage, we see her rebuild them into something new as she learns how to process her trauma over the course of the film.

Additionally, Fitch, who plays Quentin, the boy who hid with Vada and Mia in the bathroom stall, is another powerful presence on screen. Having lost his brother, he has a very different experience than two girls. And even through that, he tries to be there for Vada.

We see them taking advantage of Mia’s dads being out of the country by drinking wine, but even in that moment, they’re children. Even when Vada uses drugs to self-medicate, there is never a push to make her or Mia into adults, even if their trauma took a sense of innocence from them. This is both a credit to the costuming, the music, and the dialogue.

I don’t know if there is ever a right time for a movie about a school shooting, but for my generation, we had Columbine survivors give speeches in our auditorium. Back then, it was still rare. Now, Gen Z lives in a time where it had one point been a monthly occurrence, only curved by COVID-19 closing schools. For them, this is reality. And like all trauma, sometimes film acts as a vital part of helping you process it. Whether it’s your own experiences or the fear you feel waiting for it to happen.

The powerful element of The Fallout is that it shows audiences what we don’t see, children trying to cope. The film also accomplishes this by juxtaposing the girls against others in their class marching, giving interviews, and doing the things we see on CNN. This film shows the pain that doesn’t make the news, the kind that hides, and shows that sometimes it’s okay not to carry the world on your shoulders.

The end of The Fallout is hopeful, but not for a world where shootings won’t happen. Hopeful that you can overcome the trauma or, at the very least, learn how to deal with it. Even if it takes a long time and even if it isn’t as overt as changing policy. The Fallout is a necessary and emotional look at survivor’s guilt and the invisible scars an event like that leaves on the children who experience it.

The Fallout premiered at the 2021 virtual SXSW Film Festival.

The Fallout
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

The end of The Fallout is hopeful, but not for a world where shootings won’t happen. Hopeful that you can overcome the trauma or, at the very least, learn how to deal with it. Even if it takes a long time and even if it isn’t as overt as changing policy. The Fallout is a necessary and emotional look at survivor’s guilt and the invisible scars an event like that leaves on the children who experience it.