This unusual horror-drama takes place in a ‘60s British girls’ boarding school where two students, Lydia (the quiet Maisie Williams ) and Abbie (the glamourous Florence Pugh) have an intense teenage friendship which echoes HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994).
An outbreak of fainting starts to occur after Abbie, one of the most admired students, dies. The fainting and shivering spread throughout the school, with parents and teachers being unable to work out its causes.
The pace is slowed down with random bursts of science: every time a black and white TV is on, it’s displaying a scientific programme, and most school lessons seem to be around a Bunsen burner. It’s uncertain what this is supposed to refer to, possibly emotion versus science.
The film feels very similar to Oz psycho drama PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Peter Weir’s 1975 creepy classic also focused on the intense world of a girls’ school where cabin fever results in stir craziness, where clocks and watches mysteriously stop working, and pupils keep reciting poetry.
The Falling has has the deliberately slow pace of HANGING ROCK, with the same artistic landscape shots, which seems to have been intended to be hypnotic but ends up being slightly repetitive. There’s also nods to the mass hysteria of THE CRUCIBLE as the mysterious “illness” spreads throughout the school and the girls are hospitalised. Writer and director Carol Morley adds a bizarre episode where Lydia has sex with Abbie’s last partner to presumably feel what she did, despite the fact that the boy in question is her own brother. The viewer is not sure if they are supposed to feel surprised or disturbed, as the siblings’ mother then catches them in the act as Lydia repeats the phrase Abbie used to describe orgasm. Then, even more disturbingly, the mother starts acting as though nothing has happened and talks about her own ex-husband instead.
Although beautifully filmed, the film does seem to lend itself to creating THE FALLING drinking game. Immature but entertaining, this would involve taking a swig of the poison of your choice each time a character recites poetry, commits incest, or is discovered doing this but no other family member mentions it again. Other sips must be taken when there’s a leisurely, arty close up of nature such as leaves, trees, lakes, leaves in lakes, leaves reflected in lakes, etc.
The final scene, where Lydia literally falls from a tree into a lake and is rescued by her mother, might seem to indicate a reconciliation between them (although the brother isn’t mentioned again). Otherwise the film seems, like its schoolgirl heroines, pretty but slightly pointless.
Words: Nina Romain