“The Fallout”: An HBO Max Film that Hits Home 

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“The Fallout,” released on HBO Max on January 27th, is centered around a high school shooting and the emotional trauma is causes. The movie stars Maddie Ziegler from “Dance Moms” and Jenna Ortega. Photo courtesy of HBO Max

HBO Max’s “The Fallout,” starring “Dance Moms” star Maddie Ziegler and ex-Disney star Jenna Ortega, shows the effects of a deadly high school shooting and the grief that follows in a special way. 

In the beginning of the movie, Vada (Ortega) leaves class to speak with her sister on the phone. She enters the bathroom where pretty-girl Mia (Ziegler) is doing her makeup for her yearbook picture. All of a sudden, shots are heard from the hallway, and they run into a stall to hide together. While the viewer doesn’t witness the daunting murder of their classmates, the two girls help a fellow classmate who’s covered in blood hide with them. 

“The Fallout” proceeds in drawn-out, indie-film type of pace in which we witness how Vada copes with her emotions as a result of this scarring event. As the viewer spends time with her, we feel the impact of something even as mundane as watching “My 500 Pound Life” on the couch in silence for five whole minutes (or what felt like it). We see how Vada and Mia bond with each other in order to cope, and how their feelings evolved into something more.  

Ortega does an excellent job of capturing the “chill, unbothered” teenager that is Vada. After the events of the shooting, we see how Vada bottles up all of her emotions — her actions are self-destructive and also hurt the people around her. She turns to doing drugs like ecstasy, and some of these scenes reflect Rue, a character from popular HBO series “Euphoria,” as she trips — literally — all around her school. It’s both funny and painful to watch.  

A girl with brown hair looks down at her cell phone.
The movie dives deeper than simply exploring the fear of a school shooting incident. With a large amount of time spent in the aftermath of the event, the movie dives deep into the psychological damage such an event can cause on those who live through it. Photo courtesy of HBO Max

As Ziegler’s breakout acting role, her character seems like the perfect fit — a shy, sweet, dancer with a large following. It almost felt like she was playing herself in the movie. Despite Mia’s quietness, her character has a lot of unspoken emotional depth that Ziegler does a great job of portraying. I believe “The Fallout” is a great start for her career beyond dancing.  

The film includes touches of “Gen Z” culture without seeming out of touch, like many other films do. Some examples of this are teenagers filming the same TikTok several times until it’s perfect, the discussion of the superficiality of influencers and an accurate portrayal of an average teenager’s Instagram profile.  

The film addresses some important issues we see in the world today, as gun violence hits home amongst many teenagers. “The Fallout” provides personal insight into students’ fear surrounding school shootings, and how these events can deeply impact students and their families. “The Fallout” also portrays LGBTQIA+ representation between two young girls, who are played by actual young girls.  

“The Fallout” deals with how a traumatic experience can impact young people in different ways. Vada turned to unhealthy behaviors, like drinking and drugs, while she also performed healthy behaviors, like forming a positive support system with friends and going to therapy. We see her friend become the face of an anti-gun movement as a result of the shooting, where he puts pressure on himself to change the world because “he survived the shooting for a reason.” No matter what each student does to cope and heal, an event such as this one leaves a mark that lasts a lifetime. As the movie ends, Vada breaks down over a news headline that describes yet another school shooting. It becomes clear that the goal of the movie is to teach its young audience an important lesson: Recovering from trauma is not a linear process.  

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