By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

The Fallout won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award Prize in the Narrative Feature Competition, as well as the Brightcove Illumination Award at this year’s festival. Quite truthfully, I cannot think of a more deserving film. Of the films that I watched and enjoyed this year, The Fallout certainly is the best one. Though the movie is mostly a serious drama, writer/director Megan Park utilizes just the right amount of humor to make her movie more well-rounded, dimension and all too real.

Jenna Ortega stars as Vada Cavell, a shy and unassuming, but intelligent high school student. Her mostly quiet and uneventful life completely changes after a schoolmate has a breakdown and attacks the school in a violent shooting that either kills or injures several people there. Though Vada survives, she must live with the psychological trauma of that horrific day, and must learn to cope with these new emotions. Of course the healing process is challenging, especially for Vada whose once sweet innocence gets annhilated on that horrible fateful day.

I was absolutely floored and blown away by this incredible film. Megan Park’s screenplay and direction have crafted a most timely movie that superbly recreates the modern American high school nightmare of mass shootings. Not only does Park flawlessly develop the lead character of Vada, she also does an outstanding job of developing all of the supporting characters who play key roles in Vada’s life. Park gives the audience a complete and realistic portrait of the trauma endured by teenage children forever changed by the experience of horrific violence in their school.

Now while Megan Park certainly deserves much credit, respect and adoration for her movie, she most definitely could not have done it without the amazing cast. As Vada, Jenna Ortega is an absolute revelation. She sublimely portrays her character with the skills and maturity of an actor more mature and experienced than her young age indicates. She takes on the lead protagonist with true confidence and strength, but also imbues Vada with the much needed visible vulnerabilty of a child broken by tragedy.

The movie also features some other incredible young actors as her friends and classmates. These include Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, Lumi Pollack, and Austin Zajur. In the adult roles, accomplished actors John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, Shailene Woodley, and Christine Horn all perform wonderfuly.

Though The Fallout is very timely and relevant to the high school tragedies that have occurred for several decades, I feel that the subject matter in addition to the story and character development has a timeless quality that should resonate with not only teenagers, but also adults. I am not sure how well this movie will do come the next awards season, but Megan Park and Jenna Ortega both deserve much recognition and praise for their work in this excellent and emotionally moving film.

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