It’s difficult to know how to classify The Falling. Carol Morley’s film has its feet planted in period drama, but its head is off and away somewhere more fantastical. Whether or not something supernatural is at work is a question the script poses fairly early on, but Morley is far more concerned with the atmosphere that uncertainty creates rather than clarifying it.
It’s 1969, and 16-year olds Lydia (Maisie Williams) and Abbie (Florence Pugh) are best friends at a girls’ school, and Lydia is struggling to understand why her friend is suddenly so interested in sex.
After a tragic event, Lydia begins fainting. Before long, the girls in their friends circle start to suffer from the same condition. Is it psychogenic, or something more elemental?
Morley’s tale is steeped in British folk horror tradition. The camera frequently gazes up at a giant oak tree, Lydia’s brother Kenneth (Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole) explains how the school is situated on ancient ley lines, and the soundtrack (by Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn) is eerily hypnotic.
The primal potency of adolescence is tied to the earth, recalling The Wicker Man and Alan Garner (and Carrie at one point), and it’s utterly compelling.
All of this is rooted in darkly comic kitchen sink-realism, as Lydia lashes out at her determinedly distant mother (Maxine Peake) and struggles to adjust to the changes that Abbie is going through.
As her behaviour gets worse at home and school, Morley manages to show both sides of the situation, walking a fine line with great skill. Williams has impressed with her strong work on Game Of Thrones, and she’s tremendous here, launching herself into the dark material while making sure we don’t lose sight of the fragility and anger as Lydia becomes an increasingly powerful force within the school.
The rest of cast is superb too; Monica Dolan is particularly good as the cool headmistress who is determined to remain unfazed. It stumbles in the final act due to the need for an ending, but The Falling is beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric and very powerful.