The dark and infuriating reality of modern America is that school shootings happen regularly enough that we need to make movies about them exploring the effects they have on our collective psyche. Last year, Mass tackled the subject from the perspective of the parents of those involved, and this year, The Fallout has tackled it from the perspective of those who are effected in a different, perhaps more traumatic way — the surviving students. Make no mistake — The Fallout doesn’t try for a second to sugarcoat these events, or to tell you everything will be okay. It takes an unflinching, scathing look at the realities of this now all-too-common occurrence.
Like Never Rarely Sometimes Always from a couple of years ago, which addressed another hot topic in this country with abortion, The Fallout takes a fairly objective look at its subject matter. It’s of course not without emotion and a point of view, but its more interested in chronicling what life is like for the students who were physically safe after the shooting, but not emotionally, mentally, or psychologically so. This film gets deep into the mind of these characters, especially that of the main character, Vada (Jenna Ortega). She doesn’t know the shooter or anyone who was injured or killed, but she is still so severely traumatized that she stays home from school for weeks after the incident, scared to go outside, go into stores, or basically be in public at all.
Since this is such a specific event, there aren’t many people who know what Vada is going through. Her parents, sister, and therapist only know how to abstractly relate to her, leaving her alone even at home, the place where she’s supposed to feel the most comfort. And instead of hanging out with her best friend Nick (Will Ropp), she develops close relationships with Mia (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton (Niles Fitch), who she hid in the bathroom with as the shooting went on. The Fallout shows how people become connected through trauma — how communities, however small, can form due to people banding together, trying to move on. Because in the darkest of times, and in the most specific of traumatic circumstances, all these kids need is someone who they can relate to.
But the keyword throughout the entire film is honesty. The film itself is honest in its portrayal of a horrific shooting. While we never actually see the carnage or the shooter themselves, because that isn’t the point, it doesn’t shy away from the everlasting mark it leaves on everyone who’s even somewhat connected to the event. And it shows the apathy of those in power to do anything that will actually bring about change so that this doesn’t happen again. And at the same time, the film emphasizes the importance of being honest as a person in the wake of such a tragedy. You can’t expect to move on and even begin to process everything that’s gone on if you’re not being honest with yourself and with others about what you’re going through.
The Fallout can tend to get in the weeds a bit with the paths its characters take, and its commentary about advocacy is only about halfway cooked, but longtime actress and first-time feature film director Megan Park is perhaps the most effective film I’ve seen all year. Maybe it’s because I watched it not long after another string of recent mass shootings — the most notable being in Uvalde, Texas — but this movie helped open my eyes even wider to the truly human aspect of such a calamity. It’s easy to look at victims as numbers in a statistic, or to get lost in the politicization of everything that surrounds these shootings, or to feel sad looking at the photos of those who were injured or killed, but The Fallout creates a human empathy that opens your eyes to the permanent effect that this will have on so many people. This movie specifically followed three kids at most. But there’s an entire school’s worth of kids who were in the building when this happened. Stretch out that web to all of the people in their lives, and you start to realize how many people’s lives are being ruined by senseless acts of violence. And then multiply that by 27 — the number of school shootings in the U.S. on May 24 of this year.
Because that’s where this film hammers its point home the most. Just when it seems like everything will be okay for the characters, and just when they’re starting to accept and come to grips with what they’ve been through, there’s always going to be one more reminder that with how the country is structured, this is never going to end. The Fallout doesn’t necessarily have a specific call to action, but its final shot will undoubtedly get you to feel something — likely, rage — and thus inspire you to do something. It’s the only logical, natural, and truly empathetic step.