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It’s 1969 at an English girls school full of seething hormones and turbulent emotions; Lydia and Abbie are best friends, existing largely in a universe of two. Abbie is the undisputed leader, with natural charisma and magnetism, and Lydia is fixated on her friend, having long been emotionally abandoned by her single mum, an agoraphobe who hasn’t ventured outside for years and who barely acknowledges her daughter’s presence. Lydia’s fragile world starts to unravel when her white magik-obsessed brother and Abbie sleep together, and a tragedy and ensuing mysterious delirium overtake the school.

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The Falling movie full length review - A clunky mystery with few noteworthy aspects.

One of the London Film Festival's handful of world premieres, The Falling had naturally generated buzz as it's a film funded by the BFI, which is quite unusual for them.

Unfortunately, while it has its merits, it doesn't quite live up to expectation as a whole. That said, the limited budget is impressively spread out with a solid cast including Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams and convincing 1960s production and costume design. The creativity of director/writer Carol Morley is less striking. It's a film interested in starting a lot of tangents without finishing them, or instead giving us underwhelming payoffs. It's built on the backbone of an odd mystery, one it's uninterested in resolving, but interested in escalating.

Set in a 1969 girls school, when the promiscuous student Abbie, played by Florence Pugh, accidentally gets pregnant, she begins to suffer from fits of fainting seemingly at random. Her best friend Lydia, played by Williams, deals with the consequences after the epidemic spreads across the school with girls fainting out of control. The film appears to be a story about the friendship between Lydia and Abbie, but it fractures off into different directions, some more engaging than others. Most dramatically is exploration into Lydia's past, or rather, how she came into this world. Her relationship with her agoraphobic mother, played by Maxine Peake, is a key aspect of the film and one of the few things that eventually pay off in a satisfying way, if a disturbing one. It needed some more development beforehand to feel fully fleshed out, but the delivery of it in the third act is the film's greatest strength.

While kept deliberately ambiguous, it appears that the fainting is somewhat of a punishment for early sexual behaviour (which incidentally appears to mostly be instigated by Lydia's brother, played by Joe Cole). There's no charm in its apparent disdain and shaming for the young girls' urges and it doesn't feel like a thought thoroughly argued through enough. It's most interesting for the way the authority figures react, which is in complete denial that anything is wrong, even when Lydia is on her knees in the hallway. Even so, characters don't react the way people would react to others fainting, though perhaps it's supposed to hint about how it's become so tiresome. It contributes to the uneasy atmosphere of the film with its dreamlike eeriness.

It is quite rewarding to see Maisie Williams in this type of environment for a change. It's clear that she's making the most of it and trying her best to feel natural, but she doesn't quite have the conviction to make it work just yet. In time she'll be a great actress. It just feels as though Morley has misjudged what the film was trying to do for the most part, thematically and tonally. It does have some good aspects and interesting tidbits, existentialism that's valid if unremarkable, but as a whole it brings nothing new stylistically to the table and is often too uninspired in execution. It has a bizarre sense of humour that doesn't quite gel with its thoughtfulness and mystery. Solid production for the budget, interesting and engaging moments here and there, but The Falling is misguided from the script's initial intentions direction.

6/10

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