Dreams of a Life was one of the best British films in recent memory. As a documentary, it transcended all boundaries of the format, turning it into a piece of pure cinema. The world would watch eagerly at what director Carol Morley was going to do next; sadly, that would be The Falling.
Set in some indeterminate time in 20th Century England, best friends Lydia (Maisie Williams) and Abbie (Florence Pugh) cause mischief around their school: cruel teachers annoy them, while their parents ignore them. They live very much in their own world – that is until Abbie’s tragic, inexplicable death. Either in a state of genuine rapture, honed by the death of her friend – or completely faking it – Lydia begins to faint, dropping to the floor in the most theatrical way possible all over the school. But scarily, the rest of her schoolmates begin fainting too, any time, anywhere; is this some kind of psychological epidemic, or a brand of mass hysteria brought on by the grief over their lost friend?
Paranoia bleeds out of the disorientating editing, turning the movie into a ceaseless zoetrope of muddled mies-en-scene. It’s incredibly effective, but only serves to distance us even further from anything good the picture has to offer. Case in point; we immediately believe in the closeness of Lydia and Abbie’s friendship, but even as tragedy hits, The Falling keeps falling back on the same stiff stylistics over and over (and over) again. The biggest perpetrator of this crime is the music, which Morley shoehorns into any crack she can find, in order to replicate some form of nostalgia, or embue the movie with something resembling a soul; instead, these music cues end up as nothing more than narrative tissue, moving the film along from strained, undercut scene to undercooked scene. There is, admittedly, great craft here; Morley is a director of huge talent. This could easily have been a modern-era The Crucible, as there is always the feeling that there is a great film hidden in The Falling’s eye-rolling histrionics; but Morley has hidden it deep.