The Fallout, written and directed by Meghan Park, was released about a month ago on HBO Max. It stars Jenna Ortega, the 19-year-old known for her roles in Jane the Virgin, on Disney Channel, and the recently-released, Scream. Other notable actors include Maddie Ziegler, former Dance Moms star, Shailene Woodley, whose countless credits include The Fault in Our Stars, and This is Us actor Niles Fitch.
Ortega, Ziegler, and Fitch play teens Vada, Mia, and Quinton, who live through a school shooting and struggle to cope in the aftermath. As the movie progresses, Vada and Mia grow closer. They lean on each other, rather than their family members who struggle to understand what they’ve been through. Woodley steps into the role of an adult as Vada’s therapist. In other words, the movie is about exactly what the title suggests, the fallout—the adverse results—after a school shooting.
The movie begins with a trigger warning, letting viewers know: “What you are about to see involves issues of trauma. Viewer discretion is advised.” All too common in the modern era, school shootings have affected the lives of around 292,000 American students since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, according to the Washington Post. It was an aptly-placed trigger warning, as the movie turned out to be quite realistic and emotional.
The movie’s realism isn’t just limited to depiction of the trauma of school shootings. It extends especially to the dialogue. At first, everything Vada says strikes you as “oh, that’s kinda cringey,” until you realize that’s actually how you, your friends, and all other teenagers talk.
Vada’s relationship with her younger sister Amelia is another strikingly authentic element of the movie. This sisterly relationship is a window into the way traumatic events impact entire families. As an older sister myself, Vada and Amelia’s relationship is what struck me the most in the movie; it made me cry at least twice, once for 30 minutes straight.
On a less depressing note, I thought Ortega’s acting was outstanding. She’s played so many other teenage roles, but I found this one highlighted her acting talents the best. I’ll attest that a large part of the movie’s realistic nature is due to Ortega. She is believably fearful, humorous, stubborn, and loving in every scene. Ziegler played a believable character too, but her on-screen personality is not a far stretch from who she is in real life. I don’t know how much of her success in the role can be attributed to her acting abilities.Ultimately, The Fallout is a gripping representation of the recovery from a traumatic event that every American student fears will one day happen to them. It’s permeated by a heart-wrenching sense of powerlessness against the school shooting epidemic, but it reminds us that everyone grieves and heals in their own way.