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“The Fallout” takes a different approach to analyzing the impact of school shootings and mass gun violence by exploring what happens next.

The Fallout

“I had no idea one guy with a gun could f*ck up my life so hard in six minutes. F*ck up so many lives.”

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE WORLD?
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more mass shootings than days in 2023 (it’s currently day 128 of the year). As of the writing of this article, there have been over 200 mass shootings (defined as an attack in which at least four people are shot, either injured or killed, not including the shooter), with a whopping ten of those happening just over the past weekend (May 5-7). The latest to make headlines happened in my home state when a man opened fire at an outdoor outlet mall in Allen, Texas

Incidents like the mass shootings in Nashville, Tennessee, Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, continue to leave communities in mourning, sparking repeated calls for sensible gun reform and empty promises from politicians to do something to curb the endless violence.

In the wake of the most recent tragedy in Allen, Texas, on Saturday, President Joe Biden repeated his call for a ban on assault-style weapons — combat weapons described by the Pentagon as weapons of phenomenal lethality. At the same time, Republicans continued to rail that such regulations are ineffective, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.

History has shown that, despite impassioned rhetoric on both sides, little to nothing is ever done in the wake of these devastating tragedies. Congress imposed a 10-year ban on military-style assault rifles in 1994 but allowed it to expire. After that, Congress approved no significant gun control for 30 years.

So, while political divides thwart any reasonable debate or significant action to curb the growing threat, parents continue to send their children to school every morning, fearing they may never see them again. Children are forced to endure terrifying active shooter drills, and schools are left to consider how to protect students absent real resources or support.

Americans constantly fear being shot if we enter the wrong car or anger the wrong neighbor. We know that any time we gather in large crowds — at a concert, church, sporting event, movie theater, mall, or dance club — we are vulnerable.

In last year’s World Population Review of safest countries, the United States ranked 129th. Our position has fallen every year since 2016.

The U.S. is said to be the only developed country where mass shootings have occurred every year for the last 20. Since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died in gun-related incidents, exceeding the 1.2 million deaths in all wars in U.S. history. So far this year, 74 people have been killed or injured by guns in schools.

Nearly 350,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School slaughter in 1999.

We’ve become numb to the discourse and begun to accept this relentless cycle of extreme violence as the new normal.

It happens far too frequently. Sure, not every incident makes the news — only the most shocking and sensational stories with the most or youngest victims can garner our attention, even for a moment. And for that moment, we are collectively outraged, horrified, and heartbroken. We shout things like “Never again” and take to social media to express our righteous indignation — our “thoughts and prayers”.

But our outrage quickly dissipates, and we move on with our lives, putting the horror out of our minds until the next time we’re jolted back to the harsh reality that this is America.

The fortunate of us have the luxury to move on once the carnage has been cleaned up. We can forget — for a while — and pretend this is something that happens to other people’s children and loved ones.

But long after the world has lost interest and the 24-hour news cycle has moved on to the next headline-grabbing horror show, real lives are forever changed. The effect of what happened doesn’t fade when the last reporter leaves. It creates the kind of lasting, endlessly haunting trauma that we can’t even let ourselves begin to imagine.

Enter 2021’s The Fallout, a film that explores what happens to the survivors of a school shooting.

Written and directed by Megan Park in her feature film directorial debut, the film stars Jenna Ortega as Vada Cavell, a high school student who navigates significant emotional trauma following a school shooting.

The Fallout premiered at South by Southwest on March 17, 2021, and was released on January 27, 2022, on HBO Max to critical acclaim.

THE RIGHT FILM FOR THE RIGHT TIME

“Why do you think he did it?” “I don’t know. Is there ever a reason?”

In The Fallout, 16-year-old Vada (a nuanced and deeply affecting performance from the talented Jenna Ortega, Scream V/VI) is a self-described “chill” teen, a happy-go-lucky tomboy. She’s a conscientious student who comes from a loving, close-knit family; she doesn’t cause trouble and enjoys a close bond with her gay best friend Nick (Will Ropp) and her younger sister Amelia (Lumi Pollack). She’s an open book and non-begrudgingly embraces a no-locked-doors, no-secrets policy with her parents.

On the day we meet Vada, she’s having a perfectly normal day at school, so blissfully unaware that this is the day that will forever change her.

She excuses herself from class after getting a text from Amelia, freaked out because she just got her first period. Before returning, she stops at the bathroom, where the beautiful and popular Mia (Maddie Ziegler) touches her makeup. After a brief exchange, the girls hear rapid-fire gunshots and blood-curdling screaming coming from the hallway. After taking a second to process what’s actually happening, the two girls rush to cower in a bathroom stall, shaking and sobbing, fully convinced they are about to die.

There they wait out the agonizing six minutes of unspeakable terror, eventually joined by a boy named Quinton who has stumbled into the girls’ bathroom, covered in blood, after witnessing his brother being shot right before him.

Writer-director Megan Park mercilessly keeps the bloodshed offscreen, refusing to sensationalize or exploit it.

But while her thoughtful and delicate approach makes this scene watchable in a way so many other grisly and voyeuristic films focused on school shootings fumble, not an ounce of impact is lost. It’s every bit as tense, harrowing, and gut-wrenching as you might imagine. The sheer panic and overwhelming fear felt by the teens are palpable.

You don’t need to see what’s happening to understand how earth-shatteringly annihilating it all is. 

When we next see Vada, she’s back home, but she’s not the same girl we met at the start of the film.

She’s now listless and numb, a broken shell of her former shelf. She retreats to her room, avoiding her family. Her well-intentioned parents (Julie Bowen and John Ortiz) are desperate to help but don’t have the words. They helplessly watch their daughter suffer, even as they struggle with their own turmoil.

Vada’s best friend, Nick, ponders why he survived when so many others didn’t. He feels compelled to do something, channeling his grief into passionate activism. He’s determined to keep such a tragedy from ever happening again — which becomes all the more heartbreaking when you realize how many young people and their parents have had the exact same tenacious purpose, only to be met with indifference and an immovable force of political inertia.

As the constant news coverage of the incident and Nick’s crusade begin to feel like an assault on Vada’s senses, she seeks escape and comfort in her newfound friendship with Mia.

The girls bond over their shared trauma and sense of isolation. Vada has the love and support of her family, but they can’t possibly understand what she’s going through. Meanwhile, Mia’s absentee artist dads are traveling in Japan and can’t be bothered to return home, even after their daughter experiences a tragedy of such enormous magnitude.

Mia admits to being too scared to leave her room. She’s stopped dancing, the thing she loves most in the world. Vada has been consistently waking up in a state of panic following intense nightmares. When she asks Mia if she, too, experiences nightmares, Mia heartbreakingly replies, “You have to be able to sleep to have nightmares.”

While Mia’s dads are too preoccupied to care what she does, Vada’s parents start pressuring her to return to school. When she resists, they insist she sees a therapist (Shailene Woodley) to confront her fears. When Vada tries to return before she’s ready, her anxiety worsens, as