The Falling World (2022)
The Falling World (2022)

Genre: Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 10 min.

Release Date: October 18th, 2022 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jaclyn Bethany Actors: Ayumi Patterson, Isabelle Chester, Kaley Ronayne, Joshua David Robinson, Michael Rabe, Lucy Walters

 


 

“W

elcome to the compound.” Far from home and family in Iowa, first-year Quincy student Lark (Ayumi Patterson) is studying to become a lawyer. And the 27-year-old has made some new friends, a few of whom – including Arthur (Michael Rabe), Hadley (Isabelle Chester), and Maeve (Kaley Ronayne) – she’ll be traveling with the next day for the start of their fall break. And pal Baxter (Joshua David Robinson) will be meeting them via train. Though clearly uneasy about the unusual property they’ll be staying in – an ancient structure with limited modern-day amenities, now resembling a chapel – Lark tries to make the best of it. As soon as they enter the cavernous building, they’re greeted by aspiring writer Margot (Lucy Walters), Hadley’s sister, whose presence immediately brings down the mood. Apparently, there’s contention among the siblings.

Interestingly, it’s not instantly apparent what the primary premise of “The Falling World” will be – nor what its genre might be. Consternation about the environment suggests something of a thriller (traces of the music, too, generate cues for disquietude), while conversations about familial regrets hint at more straightforward drama. Perhaps the various couples present will introduce romantic hiccups; various secrets whispered between the occupants could be the inception of a mystery; and isolated, forested locales and talk of witch trials even lean toward horror elements. And the time period of the early ‘90s, where politics plays a part, with the looming election intruding upon dinnertime exchanges, is even less predictable in its intentions.

Problematically, however, this curious, confused blend of disparate ideas doesn’t coalesce quickly enough (even for a picture with a notably brief runtime); viewers will find themselves distracted and potentially losing interest as the characters reveal mere fragments of information that too slowly build toward a graspable storyline. This tale may be something of an intimate, meaningful exploration for writer/director Jaclyn Bethany, analyzing themes and personas that she wishes to ponder, but most of them don’t seem as if they relate to the crux of the plot – involving a missing friend named Jill, who was last seen at the very estate they now reside in. “Can I ask you something?”

Also incongruous is the nature of the weekend woodland getaway in the first place. What exactly was Lark’s plans for her vacation? What did she think was going to happen in that remote place with this group of classmates, many of whom are utter strangers? If more time had been spent alluding to her motives and her relationships with this bunch, it’s possible that audiences would be better invested in the eventual complications to come. Instead, the emotional turmoil rings hollow, as do the majority of Lark’s encroachments on her peers’ privacies. “There’s a lot you don’t know.”

Perhaps the momentary mention of Patricia Highsmith’s works are meant to shine some light on the players and their purposes, but it’s ultimately too little, too late; by the time details are filled in on Jill and her involvement, they pose no resonance. At least the acting is acceptable; the stars generally feel as if portraying themselves (or only slight derivations). Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t nearly as genuine, with many lines sounding as if copied from other properties, of which the writer has minimal understanding or a voice too unconvincing to confidently mimic. “I deserve to know what happened to Jill!” And yet, not only does Lark have a meager basis to be told, but she also doesn’t have any reason to get involved; her desire to mingle with this crowd is altogether dubious. And most regrettable of all is the likelihood that with this structuring, pacing, and character development, viewers won’t be coaxed into caring whether or not she’s ever informed.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10