Yosra Osman finds that an eerie all-girls school and some fainting pupils make for a mesmerising and unpredictable story in Carol Morley’s The Falling.
It’s 1969 and young Lydia (Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams) and her charismatic best friend Abbie (newcomer Florence Pugh) attend a controlled, conventional all-girls school. Their friendship is left strained when Abbie reveals that she’s started sleeping with boys. This may sound like the background story to any film involving teenage girls ever, but it’s taken up a notch when the school is hit by an unanticipated tragedy and a strange fainting epidemic occurs among its pupils.
The Falling is the sort of film that lingers in the mind for ages after it’s finished. The great thing about it is how most of the subject matter is left unexplained. There’s an exhilarating sense of mystery that abides from beginning to end, not least from these puzzling fainting fits, the reasons for which are never really clarified. Everyone has a different interpretation for this mass hysteria, and the strict, buttoned-up teachers at the school begin to blame disobedience. Deciding the pupils are essentially faking it, they desperately attempt to suppress the girls’ troubling bouts of weakness.
Fighting against such suppression, it’s quite striking how rebellious these spells become. Sexual undertones throughout the film add more meaning to the fainting fits, which can be seen as the students’ way of breaking away from the school’s pinched, conservative atmosphere. Rejecting the norm, the girls lose consciousness like dancers, dismissing the regimented nature of the school hall or the classroom for a woozy unconsciousness.
The Falling is an enigmatic follow up to Morley’s excellent, heart-breaking documentary Dreams of a Life (if you haven’t seen it, please do). Here, the painterly cinematography by Agnes Godard is almost dream-like, as is Tracey Thorn’s soundtrack. Much of its strength lies in its performances, many of which come from newcomers, including Pugh, who is coolly captivating as the popular Abbie. Maisie Williams is very striking as Lydia; I thought her small-screen role as the awesome Arya Stark in Game of Thrones would never leave my mind, but she quickly comes into her own as the troubled central character.
Though not perfect, The Falling is fascinating, although I could have done without the last ten minutes, which felt like an attempt to tidy up bits of the story that didn’t really need to be tidy. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderfully mysterious tale that will leave you contemplating its key questions, whether you think they’re supernatural or psychological, for quite a while after you’ve left the cinema.
The Falling gives a nod to Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, which got Hannah Dunleavy wondering whether the 1979 film was rated or dated. Find out what she decided: http://standardissuemagazine.
Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions