Day 29: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Written and Directed by Carol Morley
1 hour, 42 minutes
I watched it on Amazon Prime with my friend Natalie Klinger Heyman while the kids were at school, and we ate pizza and sweets. It was awesome. Sometimes this stay-at-home-mom gig really has its pluses, even if we so rarely take advantage.
I found this movie in an article in “The Guardian” about women horror directors. But even by my wide definition, “The Falling” barely qualifies as a spooky movie, but that’s okay. This movie is so alive and hysterical and surprising and deeply creepy and mysterious. It swirls with secrets and sexual awakening. It’s hilarious, in that witty way where everyone is a constant surprise, like if Neil Simon wrote a horror script. I laughed more with this movie than with most “comedies.”
It’s set in 1969 England, in an all-girls school and the surrounding town. One of the girls starts having seizure like fits and soon, most of the girls are having them. These physical fits reminded me of another small, spooky movie called, directly, “The Fits,” directed by Anna Rose Holmer. In both movies, a group of teenage girls start breaking out in seizure-like fits that may be caused by some malevolent force or may be a way that they’re all working out their emerging womanhood (sexuality, identity, strength, abilities). Are they driven to these fits out of sympathy for each other’s symptoms or because of the same group fears and frustrations? Or maybe something is in the air or the land or the water?
In “The Falling,” Lydia and her friends have just experienced a terrible, sudden loss and go to the same stifling, strict girls’ school. One of the only male characters is Lydia’s troubled, highly sexualized, hilarious brother, Kenneth (Joe Cole, who also killed it in the instant classic “Green Room”). Even the schoolteachers are mostly women, so these girls are operating in this uniquely female world. Seeing these girls be so physical and affectionate and supportive of each other is such a breath of fresh air. Natalie and I kept commenting on how nice it was to see female friendship like that onscreen.
The girls insist that they can’t control these fits, but the school doesn’t believe them and places all of the blame on Lydia Lamont (Maisie Williams of The Girl Does Have a Name aka “Game of Thrones”). Williams is perfect in this, a total master at playing the rebel. The doctors diagnose the girls as having “hysteria,” that classic stand-by for rebellious women. But are they really hysterical? Or are they sick? Possessed? Does this have something to do with Lydia’s severely agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake)?
The school takes so long to take the girls to the hospital, but the movie manages to hit just the right point where we are frustrated with the school’s lack of concrete action but not with the filmmakers. The school has its head so firmly in the sand, the characters even scream that out. They’re not nearly as panicked as you’d think anyone else would be. It’s almost like they’re, say, used to girls being hysterically frustrated with their lots in life.
Fair warning, there is a certain nutso subplot that takes that confusing time of first sexual experiences a bit too far. Natalie and I kept yelling things like “cut away already” at the screen. But even that ends up paying off in interesting, less direct ways so have patience when that comes up.
The script is so highly quotable. In response to her friend’s new pregnancy, Lydia quips, “This situation has made you so unpredictable.” One of the teachers, Miss Edith (Greta Scacchi, soooo compelling, funny and heartbreaking), gets all super dramatic when Lydia and Abigail are late to class. “During the war, I always managed to arrive on time.” And the way Miss Edith draws out just saying the girls’ names is delicious. Absolutely every performance is aching and bursting and beautiful, all of the girls, all of the teachers, all of the family members. Morley is obviously a deeply empathetic lady, as she infuses so much care into each character. Just when you think someone is going to be a baddie, they tell a joke or break out some staggering act of sincerity.
Not only is the writing and directing terrific, it’s absolute aces technically. It looks gorgeous. I want all the clothes – those gorgeous prints and fabrics, even on the umbrellas, made the whole thing feel so luscious. Way to go, Production Designer Jane Levick and Costume Designer Sian Jenkins and their teams! All of this shows us what a terrific vision Morley has for telling this mysterious tale. She could have done what many other oh-so-mysterious movies have done: make everything seem so cold and tight and boring and dark, but instead, she shows us what is under the surface, what these fantastic, brilliant girls feel and are yearning to learn about and express. Additional props to Morley and her producers for having such a largely female crew.
Carol Morley has a new drama coming out with Patricia Clarkson called “Out of Blue” (curious why no “the”). She made another feature in between “The Falling” and “Out of Blue” called “Edge,” with a rather cryptic logline. But I’m the most curious about her first feature, a documentary about her life as a blackout alcoholic in the London music scene in the 80’s entitled “The Alcohol Years.” It sounds like that one was also made with a lot of empathy, for herself.