During a deadly high school shooting, Vada (Jenna Ortega) and fellow students Mia (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton (Miles Fitch) survive by hiding in a bathroom stall. In the aftermath, Vada struggles with processing her emotions and suffering from PTSD. Her relationships with her family and friends, along with her view of the world are forever altered.
Canadian Actress-Writer-Director Megan Park makes her Feature-debut with this heartbreaking look at one student’s emotional fallout following a school shooting. Park creates a difficult task for herself by making her protagonist a student who doesn’t process trauma in a traditional way. Overall, Vada is a character that is so anxious about returning back to school she’s halted her life. In doing so, she has given audiences a different look into grief and trauma for a teenager, while making us question: what is the “right” way to process such a horrific experience?
From the beginning, Park brings us into the life of a modern-day teenager. We are taken into the world of social media, teen influencers, and text communication. She does an effective job of making her text messaging scenes entertaining by adding background action and music, which is scored by FINNEAS. Most importantly, she has a grasp on the slang and rhetoric of a teenager today and laces her script with authentic dialogue.
The most impactful scene in the Film happens near the beginning when the three students are in the bathroom. Park effectively uses terrifying sounds of gunshots and the reactions of Ortega and Ziegler to bring us into this horrifying experience. Once the students are in the confines of the bathroom stall, close-up shots create visual claustrophobia for Vada and Mia’s inner turmoil. The stakes and anxiety become heightened for the characters and audience when Quinton enters covered in his brother’s blood. Overall, it’s heavy material that is depicted and handled in a serious manner.
This scene is expertly acted as well. Ortega, Ziegler and Fitch’s unflinching fear are prominent and heartbreaking. There is no need to see the horror that happens offscreen because we can see the horror among their faces. Throughout the film, Ortega is magnetic to watch. She manages to portray the emotionally numb Vada in an expressive way. This is a darker role for her than her previous work and it’s clear she has an emotional range. In a minor role, Julie Bowen gives a touching performance as Vada’s anxious and caring mother. And young actress Lumi Pollack plays Vada’s younger sister Amelia. She provides moments of comic relief and has a powerful scene with Ortega near the end that requires tissues.
The Fallout screens at SXSW Wednesday, March 17, 2021 at 5 PM ET
SXSW 2021 kicks-off March 16 and runs through March 20, 2021 this year. Team Mr. Will is thrilled to bring you coverage virtually this year, giving you the scoop on some of the hottest titles to premiere at the Festival. The Film Festival component of SXSW includes digital Premieres, Screenings, and Q&As, a total 75 films, 84 short films, 30 special events, 5 episode premieres, 6 episodic pilots and more.
Here are some of Team’s most anticipated titles of SXSW 2021 which should be on your radar:
MR. WILL (Twitter: @mrwillw)
POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
Wes Hurley writes and directs this quirky autobiographical Dark Comedy details his journey from a child fleeing the USSR with his mail order bride mother, to the United States in search of a better life. In-competition as part of the Narrative Features program, the Film examines the pressures of a young man to conceal his sexuality and what it means for him and his mother to continue hiding it. Above this, the coming-of-age story navigates the new immigrant experience as a high schooler and what it’s like, adding a bit of inclusion and diversity to the programming slate at SXSW. It screens 11:00 AM on Tuesday, March 16, 2021.
WOMEN IS LOSERS
Lissette Feliciano directs and writes this Feature starring Lorenza Izzo (Once Upon a Time…. in Hollywood). The Dramedy centers on a young woman named Celina‘s (Izzo) world is turned upside down when she gets pregnant and the cycle of poverty that occurs when her family aren’t supportive and it is up to her to rewrite her destiny with an empowering message. And Canada’s Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) also stars! WOMEN IS LOSERS is in-competition in the Narrative Features program and streams Tuesday, March 16, 2021 10:55 AM.
DEMI LOVATO: DANCING WITH THE DEVIL
Global Superstar Demi Lovato made headlines after being rushed to the hospital following an opioid overdose. This Documentary goes deep as she speaks candidly about her ordeal and demons over the past decade, opening SXSW 2021. The four-part DocuSeries directed by Michael D. Ratner, arrives on YouTube Originals March 23, 2021, but we will have a chance to see it first at the Festival, followed by a Q&A. So stoked to hear about the star’s re-claiming back of her own life and lessons learned. The Film screens Tuesday, March 16, 20217:00 PM with Q&A to follow at Tuesday, March 16, 2021 9:00 PM.
INTRODUCING SELMA BLAIR
Selma Blair is the first star I ever took a Selfie with and I’ll never forget that moment and how kind she was to me! Blair has been very open about her battle with Multiple Sclerosis and this Documentary directed by Rachel Fleit, bravely recounts her journey dealing with mortality and self-acceptance. This is about empowering and inspiring in the face of crippling disability and we can’t wait to be uplifted and hear Blair speak openly. This Film just got picked-up by Discovery+ so there will by a chance for all to see soon. This screens Tuesday, March 16, 2021 beginning 3:00 PM.
THE LOST SONS
This Documentary from Ursula Macfarlane is a story so unbelievable you have to see it to believe. The story centers on a man named Paul Fronczak who was kidnapped at a young age only to be reunited with his parents by the FBI. Case closed. But then growing-up he always felt there was something different about him from his family and when he decides to delve deeper, a whole world unbeknownst to him is unravelled. We see at what cost truth comes at. Riveting storytelling which will rivet you. THE LOST SONS screens beginning Tuesday, March 16, 2021 5:00 PM.
AMANDA GILMORE (Twitter: @GilmoreAmanda)
This was my most anticipated of SXSW 2020 and thankfully they’ve included it in this year’s lineup. It follows a film development executive whose “guiding voice” has been lying to her about everything. It stars Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux, and more. This screens Thursday, March 18, 2021 5:00 PM.
Writer-Director Stacey Gregg is making her feature-directorial debut with Here Before. It’s a psychological thriller, starring the ever-talented Andrea Riseborough, and follows a bereaved mother who begins to questions her reality. This screens Wednesday, March 17, 2021 1:00 PM.
Natalie Morales is making her feature-directorial debut and starring in this drama about a Spanish teacher (Morales) and her student (Mark Duplass), who develop an unexpected friendship. Critics are already praising for its exploration of platonic love. This screens Wednesday, March 17, 2021 3:00 PM.
Canadian actress and filmmaker Megan Park is making her feature-directorial debut at the fest. It follows student Vada as she navigates the emotional impacts of a school tragedy. It’s got a powerful cast consisting of Shailene Woodley, Jenna Ortega, John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, and more. This screens Wednesday, March 17, 2021 5:00 PM.
THE SPINE OF THE NIGHT
This Midnighter animated film has a killer Cast consisting of Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, and more. It’s being described as an ultra-violent, fantasy epic about dark magic falling into sinister hands. This screens Thursday, March 18, 2021 9:00 PM.
DAVE BALDWIN (Twitter: @davemabaldwin)
BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION
Harry Shum Jr. (who you will remember from Crazy Rich Asians, the Shadowhunters TV series and last fall’s romantic drama All My Life) leads this Midnighter as a ’90s Video Archivist who gets involved a conspiracy around pirated broadcasts. Sight unseen, that sounds like a film that plays in the same sandbox as David Cronenberg’s legendary horror film Videodrome. I am not expecting a film that is nearly as grotesquely gnarly as that, but I cannot help but be intrigued by whatever Director Jacob Gentry has cooked-up here. Since it is screening on Day 1 of the Film Festival, I will not have to wait long to find out. Premieres Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 9:00 PM.
When I was in High School, I worshipped at the altar of Kevin Smith. The man had a gift for writing hilariously-profane dialogue and had the means of injecting the kind of quiet poignancy you would never expect from stoner comedies. Clerks remains one of the biggest influences on my writing career, so having the opportunity to be among the first to see a Documentary on the life and times of Smith has me breathlessly anticipating Director Malcolm Ingram’s film. This was one of the films that was supposed to be at last year’s Festival, so here is hoping there is a great reason why they waited for this year’s Festival to premiere. Premieres Wednesday March 17, 2021, 1:00 PM.
I am weary of getting excited about films that receive praise and buzz after premiering in Berlin, but I am willing to make an exception for Mark Duplass. The multi-hyphenated Actor and Filmmaker stars here with Natalie Morales as a student who develops a friendship with his Spanish teacher over Zoom classes. Duplass’ independent work tends to stumble into the personal and the natural, and I expect Language Lessons to fall along the same lines. There is an inventiveness that comes with telling a story over Zoom (just ask last summer’s super effective Horror chiller Host), so I may be setting my expectations a bit too high – but I have faith that I will really enjoy this one. Premieres Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 3:00 PM.
I am a fan of Midnight movies, can you tell? This one concerns a wealthy family, their guests, a fancy dinner and the mysterious server tending to their every need. It certainly sounds like something creepy is amiss just from the logline, and the mysterious still accompanying it of a woman staring at a broken shard of glass has my curiosity piqued. And did I mention it is spoken entirely in Welsh? Sounds like the only thing missing is the screaming crowd I won’t possibly be able to replicate around me. Premieres Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 9:00 PM.
HOW IT ENDS
I was not able to watch HOW IT ENDS at Sundance in January, so I was very excited to see it pop up in the “Festival Favourites” section on the SXSW schedule. The story revolves around the personal journey Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones, who Co-Wrote/Co-Produced/Co-Directed with her husband Daryl Wein) takes on her way to an end of the world party and everyone she runs into along the way. I have been a longtime fan of Lister-Jones’ work in Film and Television (her character Fawn Moscato on New Girl still cracks me up), so I am intrigued to see how funny a film about an asteroid hurtling towards Earth can be. With a Supporting Cast featuring Nick Kroll, Lamorne Morris, Charlie Day, Whitney Cummings and Olivia Wilde, this one feels bound to be something special. Premieres Thursday, March 18, 2021 3:00 PM.