Touching coming-of-age film The Fallout spotlights trauma of school-shootings

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Promotional Material courtesy of HBO Max

Contemplating life post-school shooting are Mia (Maddie Ziegler, left) and Vada (Jenna Ortega, right) who star in The Fallout, released on HBO Max Jan. 27.

By Corina Karr, Archie Williams High School

The Fallout, wide-released on HBO Max Jan. 27, tells the story of a school shooting and the roller coaster of a teenage survivor’s following weeks. Directed by Megan Park, the film’s 92 minutes put a spotlight on the Gen-Z experience, from scrolling through TikTok to going on Starbucks runs, all the while capturing the lingering trauma which warps every aspect of a person’s life.

 With a mix of life-threatening moments and fun teenage activities, like swimming by the pool and going on late-night gas station runs, The Fallout paints a narrative that will resonate with many teenagers. The raw characters make it impossible to ignore that the horrifying events of the film can become all too real with the pull of a trigger. 

Jenna Ortega stars as Vada, a sixteen-year-old whose life is turned upside down as she hides for her life kneeling on a toilet seat in a bathroom with Mia (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton (Niles Fitch). The three, huddled together with the smell of blood and sounds of screams ringing in their ears, survive their school’s shooting. The shooter was marked as an acquaintance, he even followed Vada on Instagram, however, not much else was given on his backstory as it wasn’t crucial to the story. 

Previously strangers from very different circles, the three gain an intense relationship through bonding over their shared trauma. However, while Vada’s new relationships bloom, her relationships with her best friend Nick (Will Ropp) and family turn rocky as she grows distant as Nick channels his trauma into activism. Unlike Nick, Vada and Mia live in fear and look for quick fixes in drugs and alcohol. The film’s sprinkling of lighthearted moments reminisces a normal teenager’s life, but an undertone of darkness lies within Vada as she trembles in the bathtub and lies awake at night.

Ortega’s performance is raw and relatable for many teens as she struggles with relationships: romantic, platonic, and the line between the two, breaking the rules, and her own mental health which she can only describe as “numb.” Although she can a bit annoying, and down right cringe-worthy at times, Vada is a typical teenager and so it is no surprise. Ortega and Ziegler’s on-screen chemistry is perfect as both girls are teenagers themselves, making the awkward stumbling and hesitation of their words seem natural. Going from strangers to friends so quickly, especially when bonded by a traumatic experience, is not swift and the actors’ body language and voice tones display it perfectly. As their friendship grows, the girls’ chemistry does as well and their relationship feels natural and believable. 

Ziegler’s character is similar to herself in real-life, as both she and Mia are famous dancer-influencers. This aspect would have been more rewarding if her dancing had been shown more than just through a phone screen in the film. While Ziegler’s start on Dance Moms set the expectations of mediocre acting, her acting is believable and while sometimes awkward, it is in character for Mia.  

Despite the film’s R rating due to swearing and teen drug/alcohol use, it is not too inappropriate. Ultimately driving the entire plot, the most intense subject by far is the school shooting, which while not graphic, has many disturbing sound effects which may leave viewers on edge. 

Unfortunately, school shootings have become a horrifying reality in dozens of schools across the United States. As of the end of 2021, there have been 92 school shootings since 2018, and the all-too-real fear of school shootings reaches across the nation for students, staff, and families alike. As The Fallout illustrates, school shootings cannot be ignored simply because they are intense or scary. America’s youth needs to be aware of the possibilities they face so that they can prepare for any kind of attack and protect themselves instead of panicking. 

 Throughout the movie, Vada and Mia are unable to find a finite cure for their irrevocably damaged lives. Although it is a frustrating truth, this emphasizes that trauma never really goes away; it grows and evolves, just like the people who carry it. 

 Although both poisoned with trauma from one of the American teenagers’ greatest fears, and delivering awkward, funny, and relatable moments, The Fallout stays entertaining while spreading awareness and making the issue of school shooting aftermath impossible to ignore. I applaud The Fallout in creating real Gen-Z characters and weaving the serious topic of school shootings into a coming of age story, making it deserving of four and a half out of five feathers.

This story was originally published on The Pitch on February 2, 2022.