The Falling is, quite honestly, one of the strangest horror films I’ve ever seen. After the death of their close friend Abby, a group of young women in a boarding school begin to experience uncontrollable fainting spells and mass hysteria. Is it the spirit of Abby speaking through them? A side effect of memorializing their friend through the occult? Or a group of young people crying out for attention from an establishment that tries and fails to control their every thought and action?
Writer/director Carol Morley crafts a bizarre world of eternal Autumn and change. These teenagers were already going through so many challenges before their friend’s death. Now, against a canvas of falling leaves and dark running rivers, the girls turn to the forces of nature when the Christian school establishment fails to recognize their individual problems and needs.
What makes The Falling so strange is the vast depth of issues introduced and meditated on throughout the film. The story and themes are all explored through Lydia (Maisie Williams), Abby’s best friend. She’s trusted with Abby’s deep secret–an unplanned pregnancy that they will terminate together–and is hit the hardest by her friend’s death. She also feels ostracized in school, only gaining some recognition and social status through her relationship with Abby. Lydia is also: the first to get sick, living in an abusive household with her agoraphobic mother, sexually interested in her brother, and obsessed with the notoriety of a bad reputation even if she claims to be the victim in every circumstance.
All those issues falling on Lydia is the greatest asset and flaw in the film. Maisie Williams is extraordinary in this role. Her performance alone can pull you through a whole bunch of disconnected and dropped plot threads. She’s captivating in the same way Jodie Foster proved her big screen bonafides by anchoring a similarly bizarre horror The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.
However, the decision to explore so many issues (there are plenty of others, too, but these are the first few to arise) means none of the subjects get enough attention. There is a distinct difference between a film that doesn’t give easy answers and a film that has no answers to give; this is the latter. It’s a testament to Morley’s direction and Williams’ performance that you’ll still be so strongly effected by the slow build of suspense and taboo subjects.
The Falling is like wandering through someone else’s dream. You’ll have no idea what’s really going on, but you’ll want to keep digging through just to understand. There are no clear answers. That frustration might be the crux of the film. How else would as wide a range of audience as possible feel as frustrated as these powerless teenage girls?