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Survival of the Unfittest

Kristen Correll

The Fallout (2021)

Revolving around the aftermath of a school shooting, “The Fallout” feels at once remote, thanks to Covid-19-mandated distance learning during the 2020 school year, yet urgent, due to mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., in early 2021.

Vada (Jenna Ortega), normally a rowdy high schooler, narrowly avoids gunfire during an impromptu bathroom break to respond to a text message from her younger sister, Amelia (Lumi Pollack), who’s in a panic over her first menstrual cycle. Vada hides in a stall with Insta-popular Mia (Maddie Ziegler), standing on the toilet seat so their feet aren’t visible from outside. Inexplicably, they are joined by Quinton (Niles Fitch), who has just witnessed the killing of his brother.

“The Fallout” explores the ways Vada navigates trauma variously through social withdrawal, sexual experimentation and recreational drugs. Tangentially, her bestie, Nick (Will Ropp), takes up the gun-control cause célèbre and becomes the de facto student talking head on the evening news. Aside from the above-mentioned classmates, Vada’s nuclear family members – a cool dad (John Ortiz), an overbearing mom (Julie Bowen) and the annoying younger sister – and a therapist played by Shailene Woodley, we don’t really see or hear from anybody else.

While its depictions of Vada’s – and to a much lesser extent, Nick’s – coping mechanisms are of interest, the film comes off as rather surficial and hollow. Its limited scope and context are exacerbated by the shallow characterizations of Vada’s three peers singled out from the entire school. For instance, it offers little insight on Mia, the social media darling living alone in a mansion without any parental supervision. And while Vada’s attraction to Mia is telegraphed early on, it seems like the entire raison d’être for Quinton in the narrative is to illustrate Vada’s sexual confusion. Way to tokenize your sole Black character. Really.


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