‘The Fallout’ Brings To Light The Reality of School Shootings & Adolescent Trauma

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Published February 5, 2022
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Maddie Ziegler and Jenna Ortega star in “The Fallout." Photo courtesy of HBO Max

Most of the time, when you hear your principal over the intercom say “shelter in place” or “lockdown,” you think it’s a drill. For some, it’s not.

Released on Jan. 27, the HBO Max film “The Fallout,” directed and written by Megan Park, explores the intense trauma and aftermath that adolescents face after their life is turned upside down due to a school shooting.

Beginning on a regular day, the film follows tomboy Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) as she suddenly finds out she’s living every student’s worst nightmare. Bonded by trauma, Vada ends up forming a friendship with two survivors, Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton Hasland (Niles Fitch), who she hid in a bathroom stall with.

Vada (played by Jenna Ortega) and Mia (played by Maddie Ziegler) freeze as they as they hear gunshots in their school. Photo courtesy of IMDb

Vada (Jenna Ortega) and Mia (Maddie Ziegler) freeze as they as they hear gunshots in their school.
Photo courtesy of HBO Max

After the shooting, Vada struggles to cope with her trauma and develops post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Vada’s trauma, mixed with her teenage stubbornness, prevents her from seeking help from her parents and her therapist, Anna (Shailene Woodley).

As the film progresses, Vada starts to emotionally unveil her feelings, claiming she’s doing better. The question on everyone’s mind is, “does she genuinely mean it?”

In the end, this is short-lived when we are met with the disturbing reality that school shootings will not stop, and the trauma surrounding them will indeed continue to bubble toward the surface.

Vada (played by Jenna Ortega) and Mia (played Maddie Ziegler) lounge in the pool after finding comfort in their newly formed friendship. Photo courtesy of IMDb

Vada (played by Jenna Ortega) and Mia (played Maddie Ziegler) lounge in the pool after finding comfort in their newly formed friendship.
Photo Courtesy of HBO Max

Parks undoubtedly hit the nail on the head with this film. Despite being R-rated, the film is shaped in a way that puts a restraint on certain scenes, yet maintains a sincere and real feeling, allowing the impact that school shootings have on one’s mental health to be accurately depicted.

Each scene is raw, realistic and spine-chilling, leaving you in suspense and wondering what’s next.

With such a sensitive and triggering topic, “The Fallout” executed its cinematography quite well as it wasn’t extravagant, but instead, simple and effective.

Besides the cinematography, the stellar performances are what really brought the film together. Ortega and Ziegler took their roles of Vada and Mia to another level. Their outstanding on-screen chemistry allowed them to tackle the heaviest scenes with grace.

Park’s portrayal of Vada and Mia’s relationship was intense and captivating as they both found solace in their newfound friendship. Watching the two navigate through their trauma, grief and romantic feelings for each other is awkward yet beautiful.

School shootings occur quite frequently but are all too often only talked about for a few days before the commotion surrounding one dies down and people quickly forget about it. When a student walks into a school building, not once does it cross their mind that their life can end in a blink of an eye. The thing is, it can.

Vada (played by Jenna Ortega) comforting Amelia (played by Lumi Pollack, after a heartfelt conversation. Photo courtesy of HBO Max

Vada (played by Jenna Ortega) comforts her sister, Amelia (played by Lumi Pollack), after a heartfelt conversation.
gunshots in their school.
Photo courtesy of HBO Max

“The Fallout” illustrates this perfectly, and demonstrates that even though there is hope, returning to normalcy after a school shooting is not always feasible for those who experienced it. Most importantly, the film serves as a reminder that the ongoing cycle of school shootings is far from over if no action is taken.

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