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New Release Review - The Falling

Following the death of a popular schoolgirl, her classmates succumb to a mysterious condition that causes them to spontaneously collapse.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Carol Morley

Starring: Maxine Peake, Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Greta Scacchi



"Picnic at Hanging Rock is an evident influence; Morley's film echoes but rarely captures the atmosphere of Peter Weir's classic. A shame, as remove the domestic subplot and mismatched soundtrack, and The Falling becomes one of the year's most bewitching releases."



The '50s and '60s were decades that saw Britain change forever as the country underwent social and sexual revolutions. At the tail end of the '60s, a fascination with rural mysticism developed among a people who had become burnt out by the rapid pace of the decade. Folk music began to infiltrate the charts, schoolbooks became filled with information about leylines and druids, and a genre of folk-horror emerged in UK cinema, with movies like The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan's Claw becoming cult hits. For her narrative feature debut, British writer-director Carol Morley takes us back to that very specific time in her culture's history.
It's 1969, and man has just walked on the moon, though you'd never know it from the milieu Morley drops us into; a rural English girls' school where the pupils laze under trees by streams, reciting Wordsworth while struggling with the confusion of their growing libidos. Snarky Lydia (Maisie Williams) and outwardly angelic Abbie (Florence Pugh) are the best of friends, the latter the most popular girl in school, a veritable goddess worshipped by her classmates. Unlike her fellow pupils, Abbie is already sexually active, Lydia's brother the latest of her randomly chosen suitors. When she becomes pregnant, Abbie begins to suffer from fainting spells, one of which proves fatal. Following Abbie's passing, Lydia too begins to suffer from her condition, collapsing to the ground at seemingly random moments. Soon, her classmates (save, curiously, for the sole non-white student), along with their one teacher of child-bearing age, also succumb to 'The Falling', to the bafflement of teachers, doctors and psychiatrists, all of whom assume the girls to be faking their sickness.
The Falling is one of the more frustrating watches I've experienced in recent years. There's a great movie in here, and a bit of reediting could restore Morley's tale to an atmospheric, ambiguous gem. The central tissue concerning the girls' mysterious ailment makes for an enthralling exploration of the link between female sexuality and the forces of nature (it's hinted that a leyline running under the school may be responsible), but Morley adds a subplot based around Lydia's relationship, or lack thereof, with her hairdressing, chain-smoking, shut-in single mother (Maxine Peake), who seems to have nothing but contempt for her daughter, refusing to even make eye contact with the child. Compared to the ambiguity of the main plot thread, this sideline is all too didactic in its soapy resolution.
The score, by Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn, is equally problematic. Some of the songs fit the material perfectly, particularly a folksy ditty sung by a post-coitus Abbie in a moment that recalls Britt Ekland's seductive dance for Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man (indeed, the dance-like hand gestures the girls make while fainting also seem to be inspired by this iconic scene), but many feel anachronistic, cutting through the movie's many beautifully shot montages like a chainsaw through an oak.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is an evident influence; Morley's film echoes but rarely captures the atmosphere of Peter Weir's classic. A shame, as remove the domestic subplot and mismatched soundtrack, and The Falling becomes one of the year's most bewitching releases.




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