For the first half hour of The Falling, we’re in what feels like a quiet English drama about a girls’ school in the late 1960s. But after the beautiful popular Abbie (Florence Pugh) dies and her best friend Lydia (Maisie Williams) and other girls begin fainting without cause, it becomes something much stranger and darker. Writer/director Carol Morley’s film is moody exploration of every-day horrors through the eyes of girls and women.
Are the girls fainting because there is a medical cause? Are they fainting because there’s something supernatural going on? Is Lydia controlling everyone (Lydia’s eye twitch seems to indicate there are forces beyond her understanding here)? Are they being haunted by the ghost of Abbie (more than just metaphorically)? There aren’t a lot of answers here, but it’s not a movie that requires them.
Although the movie is more about the fraught ways girls and women treat each other, switching between support and love to anger and mistrust, men offer a subtle, sinister presence. Lydia’s brother’s obsession with free love and the occult leads to a dark shift (and somewhat unnecessary) shift in his character. The doctor brought in to talk to the girls about their condition seems to dismiss all of their concerns outright.
With abrupt edits and flashes of single frames that often seem to suggest the hidden secrets of the girls and women in this movie (including rape and abortion), it’s stylized and engrossing. While Tracey Thorn’s soundtrack is out of place for the time period, it provides a hauntingly incongruous backdrop.
As a spiritual descendant of both Picnic at Hanging Rock and Don’t Look Now, it’s not quite horror in a traditional sense, but a creeping dread and suggestions of supernatural create an edgy, taught movie that explores the ways girls and women are limited in their lives. And sometimes that’s the worst horror of all.