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The Fallout is a sobering look at school gun violence

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In her feature-length debut, writer-director Megan Park helms an award-winning drama about Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega), a high school student who's struggling emotionally after a high school tragedy. The film won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival as well as the Directors to Watch Award from the 2022 Palm Springs International Film Festival. (96 min.)

AFTERMATH After a school tragedy, Vada (Jenna Ortega) struggles to make sense of her life, family, and friends, in The Fallout, now streaming on HBO Max. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SSS ENTERTAINMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Sss Entertainment
  • AFTERMATH After a school tragedy, Vada (Jenna Ortega) struggles to make sense of her life, family, and friends, in The Fallout, now streaming on HBO Max.
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Glen This remarkable feature-length debut by Megan Park manages to dig deeper than the headlines to offer an intimate look at the aftermath of a school shooting—not at the gunman (and it is always a male, isn't it?) or his wounded and dead victims, but the victims without visible wounds: the ones who self-medicate, wake up in a cold sweat, turn to reckless behavior, and are afraid to return to school. At the center is Vada, a sassy 16-year-old on a bathroom break to field a phone call from her younger sister, Amelia (Lumi Pollack), who's having her first menstrual period. Also in the bathroom is Mia (Maddie Ziegler), a popular fellow student and budding social media star, and after the shots ring out, Quinton (Niles Fitch), another student covered in his brother's blood enters the girls' bathroom to hide. They huddle together waiting for the horror to end, and after the shooting stops, they form a bond forged in their shared trauma. The bulk of the film is watching them navigate their complicated emotions. It's a sobering reminder of our national gun violence stain, and it feels sadly real.

Anna How incredibly sad it is that this is a position so many students have gone through, lived through, lost their lives to. The trauma isn't over once the gunman is gone. In fact, being a witness to this type of violence has lifelong consequences. The teen brain is still in such a stage of development, cementing who we become as a person and as an adult. When experiences like what happened to Vada, Mia, and Quinton are part of that formation, there's no leaving them behind. These characters are fundamentally changed, soon taking to whatever coping mechanisms seem to be working for them—whether that's at the bottom of a bottle or turning into total shutdown mode around those who are helplessly watching. Whatever your stance on guns or the Second Amendment might be, it's clear in these all too real moments that America has a problem with guns, and they fall into our children's hands with far too much ease. This was a gripping movie, one shining a light on an incredibly sad reality we live with on the daily.

Glen Aside from Vada and Amelia's parents, played by veteran actors John Ortiz and Julie Bowen, and Vada's therapist played by Shailene Woodley, most of the actors were fresh faces to me. The acting was uniformly good, and it's easier to feel like you're witnessing real life when you're not seeing well-known stars on the screen. I was especially impressed by the chemistry between Ortega and Ziegler—the two girls who shared an unspeakable experience and found solace in one another's company. Both performances feel natural and true. Will Ropp stars as Vada's former bestie, Nick Feinstein, who after the shooting became sort of a David Hogg gun control activist. He's funneling the experience into action, while Vada is simply trying not to be pulled under and into total despair. The film makes clear that there's not a one-size-fits-all path to processing trauma. Too bad one empathetic, insightful, and emotionally piercing film isn't enough to reverse the USA's fetishization of guns.

Anna So true. It's doubtful any film could change minds about such a polarizing issue. I will say that who this film will absolutely hit home with are parents. The torture of thinking of your own child going through such an experience and then living with the consequences of that trauma is nothing short of heartbreaking. The two young women basically become the most important thing in the world to each other because of their shared experience. It's something they don't want to relive by talking it out with those who weren't there, yet they find comfort in each other and in the fact that they were, thankfully, not alone in that moment of upheaval and panic. I, too, enjoyed having a cast that was mostly unknown to me. It definitely can help you sink into the story—especially with actors as talented as these and a story so brutally real. It's not necessarily a fun watch, but it's a good one, and it's about something that we may want to push to the back of our minds but shouldn't. It's a look at an unfortunate reality square in the face, and it isn't pretty. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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