Dreamlike in its depiction of the recondite difficulties that plague adolescence, The Falling regards its youthful subjects with a pensively tentative admiration. Packaging her film as a slowly-unraveling thriller, writer/director Carol Morley cannot help but to mystify her audience as the narrative fades into a complex chain of metaphoric and cryptic visualizations. Led by a capable array of young female actresses, The Falling basks in the oceans of uncertainty displayed on their expressive, increasingly-frightened faces.
Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) are the best of friends. The two are so close, in fact, that they plan to meet under an old oak tree on the same day and time every year for the rest of their lives. The more outspoken and effervescent Abby has no problems exploring her budding sexuality, leaving Lydia behind to sink into confusion and self-doubt. When Abby develops an unusual illness, ostensibly from the early stages of a pregnancy, she becomes the buzz of her small, all-girl Catholic school. A series of fainting spells and vomiting lead to an abrupt decline in health, and the young girl is suddenly overtaken by the dysfunction. After her best friend’s death, Lydia notices a similar manifestation of symptoms in herself, and they seem to be quickly spreading to the rest of the school.
Using long, static and almost Ozu-esque shots of nature to transition between scenes, Morley forces the audience to pause and reflect on the often tumultuous, and usually bizarre, events they have just witnessed. As the film comes into its own, genre preconceptions begin to melt away by uncovering the dark, twisted drama that lies beneath. Starting simply enough, The Falling begins to defy itself as it progresses. Character arcs are halted, a decidedly poppy score betrays the gravity of the images it accompanies and the narrative devolves into near-irrationality. Morley pushes the film’s “mystery” beyond any audience guessing games to a level of bewilderment above any useful analysis, leaving viewers in a state of excited shock. Once accepted, the notion of going along for an unknown ride becomes an fair stipulation, made even more agreeable when in conjunction with the mounting tension and the radiance of Williams’ performance.
While Morley’s motives are never resoundingly clear, her use of sound and jarring single-frame inserts remain enrapturing. Taking the lead from the likes of David Lynch and Peter Strickland, the visuals become almost secondary to the noise. A combination of disquieting whispers, foley and score are elegantly mixed to evince an emotional response much greater than that of the sum of the individual parts. A single piece of repetitive music (shown to be played by an alternative orchestra organized by Abby, and by Tracy Thorn in reality), defined by an inverse pair of glissando is, in itself, enough to perk up any waning attention and cause neck hairs theatre-wide (or living room-wide in my particular case) to stand at rigid attention. As magnetizing as the ear candy may be, Morley’s visuals are not to be outdone. A bleak, muted color palate and ominous shadowing are made even more distressing when contrasted against the lush, colorful countryside. Delicate camera movements lend an ethereal quality to the film that balances perfectly with the curious events being depicted, thus imbuing an undue urgency to a mostly listless progression of events.
The Falling is a film that begs to be understood until it veers so far off course that all interpretation seems impossible. Heroes are vilified and villains glorified — each scene is given a counterintuitive momentousness that is as baffling as it is enrapturing. Having given up trying to understand what I was seeing, I was struck by just how strongly the film clung to me. With plenty of time to digest the abstractness, a clear picture began to form. This is where the power of The Falling lies — the director’s ability to unload a heap of information to be digested at a later time. So many contemporary films are obsessed with keeping viewers on the edges of their seats, making countless mental notes in order to “beat” the film to the punch. Carol Morley is unconcerned with this cheap sense of instant gratification. Instead, she derives pleasure from creating a lasting impact in the minds of her viewers, leaving everything up to experiential insight and allowing any interpreted “meanings” to be deeply personal ones.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.