In the tradition of ‘weird school’ movies like Peter Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975), Sidney Lumet’s CHILD’S PLAY (1971) and John MacKenzie’s UNMAN, WITTERING & ZIGO comes Carol Morley’s low budget UK entry into this curious subgenre, now released on Blu-ray and DVD by Metrodome.
It’s 1969 and at a posh girls’ school student Lydia (Maisie Williams) is best friends with Abbie (Florence Pugh). There’s a touch of lesbian heroine-worship about the relationship that hasn’t stopped the more adventurous and confident Abbie from losing her virginity and getting pregnant in the process. When Abbie dies Lydia begins to suffer from fainting spells that quickly become communicated to a number of the other girls, and also their young art teacher. The problem quickly becomes so bad that the school is closed while the affected girls are admitted to hospital for a series of tests. Is there something significant going on here? Or is it just the effects of hysteria?
A somewhat awkward and at times ham-fisted attempt to do THE CRUCIBLE by way of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, THE FALLING features some excellent performance by its almost entirely female cast, including Greta Scacchi as one of the teachers and Maxine Peake as Lydia’s mum who has secrets of her own. Sadly they’re all a bit failed by the direction, which never quite knows what it wants the film to be. The first half an hour or so suggests we’re going to get a folk-horror version of Weir’s film, with Wordsworth instead of Poe and rainy England instead of Australia. However if there is any intended mystic element here it’s all a bit cack-handed. Every few scenes we get shots of trees and leaves that are no so much subtle as like someone regularly poking you with a great big stick marked ‘symbolism’.
THE FALLING is a movie that desperately needs a lighter touch than its been given, irrespective of what the message is meant to be. In fact I would have loved to see what Ben Wheatley might have done with it. As the film goes on we lose any mystical element, and oddly enough as the film tries harder to rationalise what has happened it actually becomes less interesting. Add in bits pinched from other films (“My watch has stopped” from PICNIC, and a male jibe lifted from Brian de Palma’s CARRIE) that feel very shoehorned in, and you have a film with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Metrodome’s Blu-ray transfer makes the English countryside look gorgeous. Extras include a trailer and a Carol Morley short film ‘The Madness of the Dance’. THE FALLING is ultimately a disappointment. There are some very good ideas here and, as I said, some good performances. The music keeps threatening to go all folky and weird but actually just ends up bland and uninteresting, a bit like the film itself. I listed some films at the beginning of this review. They’re all better than THE FALLING. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look but it’s probably best approached with lowered expectations, which I hope is what I’ve done here. And The Guardian loved it so what do I know?
Metrodome are releasing THE FALLING on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on Monday 24th August 2015