London Film Festival: Maisie Williams shines in this eerie drama from British director Carol Morley
Carol Morley is best known for her documentaries Dreams of a Life and The Alcohol Years; her second narrative feature (after Edge) is a dark, twisted and thoughtful coming-of-ager set at a British girls' school in the late 60s. It's partly inspired by a recent case of psychogenic illness, or mass hysteria, at Le Roy high school in the US and by Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones' plucky Arya Stark) and confident newcomer Florence Pugh star as two teenage friends, Lydia and Abbie, who are extremely close. Everything changes though when Abbie loses her virginity and believes herself to be pregnant, with Lydia starting to feel distant from her best friend. When an unexpected tragedy occurs Lydia begins twitching and fainting at random whilst at school. Her malady infects fellow pupils and teachers but stern headmistress, Miss Alvaro, (Monica Dolan) thinks it’s all down to their overactive imaginations.
Morley sets a suitably surreal tone and Williams excels at conveying confusion, defiance and teen angst. Mixing supernatural elements with drama, choreographed dance with original music, The Falling is ultimately its own beast yet has hints of Heavenly Creatures, The Craft and even Lucky McKee’s The Woods. Terrible secrets hide in the rural grounds of this grand school and the deterioration of Lydia’s mental state is strikingly rendered through an expertly captured autumnal setting, fashioned into a dreamy haze by cinematographer Agnès Godard.
Musician Tracey Thorn provides an eerie accompaniment which perhaps could have been used more sparingly, as her score distracts at times. However, an excellent xylophone-led number casts an elegantly haunting spell as the girls coalesce with nature, and Morley sprinkles wonderfully deadpan humour throughout. Female anxieties and emotions spill over in a potent brew which effectively explores both sexual awakening and fear of the opposite sex.
Screening on Sat 11, Mon 13 and Sun 19 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. General release TBC.