A scene from "The Fallout" starring Jenna Ortega.

A scene from "The Fallout" starring Jenna Ortega. Credit: TNS/HBO Max

MOVIE "The Fallout"

WHERE Streaming on HBO Max

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The new movie "The Fallout" tells the story of the aftermath of a high school shooting, focusing on the experiences of four survivors.

The protagonist is Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega), who hides in a bathroom stall during the shooting with classmates Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton Hasland (Niles Fitch).

While they were not more than acquaintances, at best, before this awful moment, Vada and Mia find themselves drawn together in its wake. They share a sense of loss so overpowering they've become numbed to the rest of the world.

Quinton must learn how to adapt to a new normal without his brother, a victim of the shooting. The fourth major character, Vada's best friend Nick Feinstein (Will Ropp), becomes motivated by the experience to fight for stricter gun control laws.

Written and directed by Megan Park in her directorial debut, the movie also features Park's "Secret Life of the American Teenager" co-star Shailene Woodley as a therapist, as well as the excellent actors John Ortiz and Julie Bowen as Vada's parents.

It's streaming now on HBO Max.

MY SAY "The Fallout" tells its story in the moments that pass in between the notes — in the close-ups, the silence, the dread.

It conveys the magnitude of the tragedy at its center through images like a montage of funeral programs piling high in a wooden box, showing us the reverberations of what's happened through a personalized lens.

It takes a confident filmmaking touch to pull this off in a way that's based in what's tangible and real, foregoing sensationalism to get at something approaching truth.

The writer-director achieves it first by placing trust in her stars and their ability to keep things engaging, even when they're doing little more than spending time together and trying, if only for a moment, to forget what they've been through.

Ortega ("You") and Ziegler ("Music") layer Vada and Mia with complications without sacrificing the naturalism that's central to drawing the audience into the story.

Isolated in their homes — Vada, surrounded by parents and a sister who can't possibly understand what she's been through; Mia left perpetually alone, with parents who are always out of town — they become close. Their relationship develops as a mechanism for processing what's happened, and because they grow to love one another, even beyond the parameters of their shared trauma.

Similarly, "The Fallout" works as well as it does because Park is attuned to larger ideas — sharply evoking the way in which the stages of grief materialize simultaneously and, often, unexpectedly — without neglecting the importance of conveying those ideas through characters worth caring about.

The filmmaker takes on a wrenching subject and shapes it into a movie that never looks away, even as it remains painstakingly focused on communicating the impact of those horrors in moments that might otherwise seem ordinary.

BOTTOM LINE This is an auspicious feature filmmaking debut for Megan Park, a movie that surveys difficult emotional terrain without stepping wrong.

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