That director Carol Morley went to art school comes as no surprise watching The Falling. Starring Maisie Williams (Arya Stark in Game of Thrones), the film has an artistic dreamlike quality that lulls us into its world of perversion.
Williams plays Lydia, a schoolgirl in 1969 shunned by her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) and attached at the hip to best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh). Morley captures the dreary, prison-like world of school with its washed out greys, juxtaposed with the beauty of the natural world outside. The girls spend their days reciting poetry and discussing losing their virginity, longing for an escape. It’s accompanied by a soundtrack from Tracey Thorn – a repeated reminiscence of hypnotic xylophone.
After tragic events, Lydia’s world unravels. The bond between the girls is so strong that, when broken, it has magick qualities. Seemingly possessed, Lydia suffers from fits of fainting that soon spread across the school like a virus in a wave of orgasmic ecstasy. What ensues is a witch-hunt: are these girls truly hysterical, or is this just attention seeking?
The Falling, then, is an exploration of female neurosis tied into issues of identity, puberty and grief. There is, of course, a psychological reason behind the events involving Lydia’s relationship with her mother, but before then we witness the silliness of endless fainting and incest with her brother as Lydia becomes increasingly crazed, her hysterical nature arising as displaced sexual desire.
It’s a perverse narrative wrapped up in poetry. The cinematic style certainly heightens the film to dreamy fantasy, but it’s difficult to take seriously: the artistry self-indulgent, the plot unintentionally hilarious. Morley may have put a distinctive spin on the film, but its psychological themes, school setting and linking of female neurosis with the occult is nothing new.
At the least, it introduces Williams as a talented actress far beyond her role in Game of Thrones. Her turn as the unhinged Lydia is one of the few points of believability in an otherwise bizarre coming of age film. Peake, too, excels as her almost silent, uncaring mother.
Watch: The Falling screens at the London Film Festival, with general release soon.