Director: Carol Morley
Screenplay: Carol Morley
Producers: Luc Roeg, Cairo Cannon
Starring: Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Greta Scacchi, Maxine Peake
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 102 mins
Carol Morley’s The Falling is a film that has been championed by many critics as the natural successor to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Other acclaimed films have been mentioned in comparison, including …If, Don’t Look Now and Heavenly Creatures but unlike those superb films, The Falling is a deeply unsatisfying, often laughable and overwrought failed experiment. While Picnic at Hanging Rock seemed to tap into an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere with barely discernible effort, The Falling seems to constantly be striving to achieve something similar. It is self-consciously esoteric while also making ill-judged last minute concessions to surprise narrative twists and melodramatic clichés.
The Falling is set in a late 60s English girl’s school where the sudden death of a girl who believes she is pregnant seems to indirectly lead to an epidemic of fainting fits amongst the majority of the girls and even one teacher. Lydia (Maisie Williams), the first to suffer from one of these bizarre spells in the wake of her best friend’s death, struggles against the hostile administration in order to convince them to take action rather than ignore the phenomenon and attribute it to girlish hysteria. Meanwhile, Lydia must also deal with her distant, acrimonious relationship with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake).
A promisingly intriguing premise ultimately leads to very little in The Falling. In a film like this, strong storytelling, narrative closure and character development is not the point and I went into it expecting none of these things. But if a film is to be carried chiefly by its atmospherics, visuals and symbolism, these elements have to be extremely strong. The Falling has a pretty lakeside setting and Morley seems to put too much stock in the juxtaposition between this idyllic scenery and the unsettling goings-on. It doesn’t work mainly because the goings-on are not remotely unsettling but rather laughably overdramatic or just plain baffling. The fainting scenes, so key to the narrative, alternate between intentionally funny abrupt collapses and ludicrous balletic displays that are just confusing and look like the warm-up exercises of a sixth form drama group. Morley seems well aware of the blackly comic effect of the fast faints but perhaps fearing this will overwhelm the film she resorts to baffling gyrations to slow down the process, making things worse by adding clumsy surges of music.
The Falling has an impressive cast but sadly the performances Morley has drawn from them is in keeping with the misjudgement of everything else. Having not watched Game of Thrones, I was not familiar with Maisie Williams who plays the lead role of Lydia but I was only sporadically impressed with her performance. She has an undeniable charisma and a fantastic face but also a tendency to sound forced and insincere on a lot of line readings. Morley has also populated the adult cast with famous faces who are all underperforming. Maxine Peake is wasted as Lydia’s mother, her attempt at emotional distance merely making her character impossible to get any handle on whatsoever, making the tacked on climactic revelations entirely underwhelming. Greta Scacchi, as the malevolent teacher Miss Mantel is pure pantomime from her first scene, as if she thinks she’s playing the Wicked Witch of the West. The best performance comes from young singer-songwriter Florence Pugh as Abigail, the girl whose death triggers off the fainting epidemic, but she necessarily disappears early in the film.
The Falling has irritated many viewers because of its lack of any explanation and its repetitive, loose structure but these are all elements that, if handled right, can create masterpieces that are refreshingly different and oddly more satisfying that similar films in which everything is tied up in a neat package. The oft-mention Picnic at Hanging Rock is a prime example, but this comparison only serves to highlight all the mistakes that this feeble stab at something similar makes. If I went into The Falling hoping for something in the vein of Peter Weir’s 70s masterpiece but half expecting an intriguing failure, I got neither. Sadly, Morley’s film fails even to remotely intrigue as it balletically falls apart before our eyes.
The Falling is released by Metrodome on 24th August 2015.