‘The Fallout’: A powerful message but unfinished



By Nina Figurelli, Assistant Editor

School is supposed to be a safe haven for students that fosters a comfortable environment for both learning and socializing. However, this environment can often be disrupted with fear and anxiety of gun violence in schools. Far too many understand the struggle of feeling unsafe at school, and finally, we have a movie that addresses the real endeavors of teenagers; from struggles with mental health to the uneasiness of personal safety in schools.

“The Fallout” follows 16-year-old Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) and her journey coping after a school shooting. Through their shared traumatic experience, she develops new bonds and friendships with Mia (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton (Niles Fitch). However, as Vada grapples with the aftermath of the incident and her survivor’s guilt, she weakens her relationships with her family and best friend. 

After she gets a phone call from her sister, Amelia (Lumi Pollack), Vada goes to the bathroom, where she meets Mia. On the surface, Mia is a stereotypical rich popular girl, but as the movie progresses, we discover that her character has many layers. Due to her demanding dance schedule and absent parents, Mia doesn’t have any close friends, but, surprisingly, she is down to earth. 

Shortly after the brief encounter between Vada and Mia, they are faced with unexpected and unprecedented fear after gunshots go off.

Once Vada and Mia hear gunshots, they hurry to hide in a bathroom stall. They are soon accompanied by Quinton, who is covered in his brother’s blood. Together, they stood on a toilet for six minutes, which felt like six hours of absolute horror and torment. 

This scene was raw, realistic and powerful. Ortega’s and Ziegler’s acting was spectacular; I could feel Vada’s panic and fear. The trepidation of the unknown leaves viewers in uneasiness and disarray. Although the scene was short, it was emotional and certainly left a lasting impact on me. 

Following the shooting, Vada isolates herself in her room and simultaneously pushes away Amelia and the rest of their family. She continues to wonder why she survived. Unlike her best friend Nick (Will Ropp), she didn’t feel like she had a purpose and, consequently, fell into a rabbit hole of depression and numbness. 

Nick becomes politically active against gun violence. While his activism is admirable and inspirational, he belittles and demeans how others, particularly Vada, are coping after the traumatic event. Through their disintegrating relationship, we get to understand their different perspectives during the stages of grief after the school shooting.

The friendship between Nick and Vada gives us a glimpse of the vast and varying experiences throughout the country: Nick represents the outspoken advocates, while Vada represents the victims beyond the screen. On the news, we never get to see past the few outspoken individuals who advocate for all victims of gun violence in schools, but in “The Fallout” there is the representation of thousands of unheard voices.

As Vada copes with her guilt, depression and anxiety, she resorts to the comfort of drugs and alcohol. With that being said, there is a fine line between portraying reality and romanticizing depictions of drug abuse and mental health in film. “The Fallout” neither normalizes nor romanticizes the consequences of drugs and, in fact, shows Vada seeking help for her struggles with her therapist, Anna (Shailene Woodley).

From the beautiful cinematography to the tear-jerking acting, “The Fallout” is a masterpiece. Finally we have a movie that casts teenagers to portray teenagers, which made the movie captivating and more realistic with age-appropriate actors. The plethora of perspectives was refreshing to see.

I must say that this is a major step up from Ziegler’s movie “Music”, where she portrays a young girl on the autism spectrum. It may just be the better writing and the film’s overall tastefulness, but Ziegler’s complex role in “The Fallout” shows substantial growth in her acting career. 

However, when I watched the movie, a part of me was left wanting closure; Vada had so much unfinished business to take care of, but then it clicked. This story wasn’t meant to be “finished”; we are supposed to wonder what happened to Vada and her relationships. She represents the unseen faces who are quickly forgotten after their 15 minutes of news coverage.

Certain issues in society, such as school shootings, are only addressed when it becomes trendy. Inevitably, the news slowly stops covering these issues and everyone forgets, except for the ones directly affected. Life goes on for everyone else, while victims are left to pick up the broken pieces of a life that will never be the same. 

“The Fallout” is streaming on HBOMax and is definitely worth a watch. This movie sheds light on the emotional turmoil faced by students after a school shooting, and it also addresses pressing issues facing modern American society.