review: Downfalls High

Machine Gun Kelly and Mod Sun released the short film ‘Downfalls High’ for MGK’s latest album ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ on 15 January– “the first of its kind musical film experience”, as the both of them and the cast described it multiple times on social media. Expectations were set high, since MGK compared it to ‘Grease’ last fall during filming, saying it’s the new pop-punk version. “It was almost like shooting 14 music videos back-to-back, but with a narrative that’s outside of my personal life stories”, he explained as he is just the narrator of the movie and not a character. The cast is full of youngsters from different fields of the creative industry that perfectly fit the pop-punk aesthetic; Chase Hudson (better known as Lil Huddy from TikTok), Sydney Sweeney (actress), Jaden Hossler (former TikTok creator, now musician under the same label as MGK), Maggie Lindemann (singer), Landon Barker (Travis Barker’s son and drummer) and more – all of them, besides Sweeney, debuting as actors/actresses. The musical film also features Travis Barker, Trippie Redd, Blackbear and Iann Dior, as they are featured on MGK’s album as well. Writing the script and filming the project in Los Angeles was, according to MGK, both done in only four days in October – due to the fact Mod Sun has had this certain vision for a movie since he was 16 years old. The first trailer was released last November and the final one just earlier this month.

‘Downfalls High’ is a typical high school movie about the many first times that students might experience within this period of time – bullying, love, death of a loved one, fake friends, mental health issues and the feeling of success. There are barely any dialogues as the songs are used to narrate the scenes and the characters’ feelings, though there are some memorable lines – such as the conversations between the two main characters Fenix and Scarlett, when she asks him what he wants to be when he grows up and he replies “Dead”, or when she asks him if he can see a future for the both of them and he asks her which life she is referring to, “[..] this […] or the next?”. The movie contains a lot of VHS shots, making it seem homemade and authentic – the look fits certain scenes perfectly, for example when Fenix hangs out with his friends.

The storyline is simple, yet effective. The first scene shows a boy in a patient gown and a straitjacket, sitting on a chair in a mental hospital, one of his ears missing and MGK narrating, “Sometimes you can love somebody or something so much that people will think you’re crazy. […]”. Then there is a cut to 8 months prior: Fenix is an outsider at school, especially since his best friend decided to drop out, and being bullied by the popular kids. Scarlett, a member of the popular gang, thinks he’s cute, asks him to hang out and both of them eventually fall in love with each other. Due to Fenix’s cryptic statements, it’s assumable that he struggles with his mental health, though his mental state is not properly described. He finds pleasure and escape in not only his girlfriend but also in music, which Scarlett recognises and she gifts him a pink guitar. The lovestory-plot changes when Scarlett becomes the victim of a tragic car accident and dies. Although Fenix decides to start a band in her honour, with his pink guitar and two of his friends, he loses himself a little more every day. His friends become particularly concerned when he gets a tattoo of his dead girlfriend’s name in a heart, starts a fist fight with his bully at school and when they find out he has been sleeping next to Scarlett’s grave every single night since the funeral.

As Fenix’s band blows up online and a video of them performing at their first gig goes viral, his bully suddenly thinks they are “cool” with each other and forces him to take a picture together, just to get likes on Instagram. The same day, Fenix catches Scarlett’s best friend in a diner, carrying her bag. He angrily confronts her about it, ripping the bag out of her hands and running onto the streets, where he goes through Scarlett’s old belongings. Fenix finds a pregnancy test as well as her diary, the last entry saying that she’s pregnant with his child but too nervous to tell him. That’s when the viewer can assume he officially loses his mind.

“Why do people believe in happy endings? Our TV sold us fairytales. The biggest love songs come from heartbreak.” – MGK narrates, already indicating an un-happy ending, as the movie continues with graduation day. When Fenix’s name is being called out and he comes on stage, he – instead of taking his degree – pulls out a knife and cuts his own ear off, blood splashing everywhere. The credits start rolling as the last song of the album “play this when I’m gone” plays out, the final scene showing Fenix writing “I’m selling tickets to my downfall” on his pink guitar with a black marker.

‘Downfalls High’ sure is captivating, for which MGK’s brilliant album is to credit as all of the actors – besides Hossler, who plays the role as the bully scarily authentic – lack on emotional performance. Hudson shedding a few tears when he receives the unfortunate news of his movie girlfriend’s death, seems to be as far as his acting skills go. Due to the movie only being 49 minutes long, the storyline also feels a little rushed, with everything happening really fast – a quick look away and one main character suddenly died, while the other one lost an ear. The idea of tackling the Van Gogh Syndrome is also something MGK and Mod Sun have been talking about for a decade, as the latter explained after the release on Twitter and asked: “Why are so many great artists so tortured?”.

Altogether, the musical film is definitely worth a watch, if not for the rollercoaster-like story brought across in mostly cringy acting, then for the infectious music –and even advice you to  re-watch it a few times, just to take in all the clues that might’ve passed in the blink of an eye the first time or to bop your head to the songs once more.

Text by: Victoria Madzak

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