★★☆☆☆ At a retreat in upstate New York, law student Lark (Ayumi Patterson) gradually uncovers a web of mystery and deceit that has ensnared her friends. American director Jaclycn Bethany's second feature, The Falling World contains moments of intrigue but a limp script and a cast of unengaging characters make this effort fall flat.

★★☆☆☆

At a retreat in upstate New York, law student Lark (Ayumi Patterson) gradually uncovers a web of mystery and deceit that has ensnared her friends. American director Jaclycn Bethany’s second feature, The Falling World contains moments of intrigue but a limp script and a cast of unengaging characters make this effort fall flat.

Well-to-do student Hadley (Isabelle Chester) owns a grand family home in upstate New York, using it as annual summer house for herself and her friends. Margot (Lucy Walters), Maeve (Kaley Ronayne), Baxter (Joshua David Robertson) and Arthur (Michael Rabe) have enjoyed the trips for years, so when Lark arrives as the newest member of the group she expects a quiet retreat, new friends and long summer evenings sat round the bonfire.

What she finds instead is an atmosphere of tension and suspicion among the group, who are clearly hiding something from Lark. It’s a solid premise for a character drama and there are hints of the Dogme 95 school in the immediate, utilitarian cinematography.

Where The Falling World stumbles is in the script, both with its flat characterisation, opaque plotting and a rather bitter dearth of empathy. The cast do their best to flesh out flat roles, but Maeve and Arthur are largely irritating distractions, while Chester’s icy performance as Hadley does little to elevate two-dimensional writing.

Margot fares better with a late night heart to heart with Lark, but even this exposes a lack of narrative focus, with little apparent consideration of how their exchange contributes to the impact of the film’s eventual denouement or themes of betrayal and twisted love.

At a mere seventy minutes, one might expect The Falling World to land more quickly, but instead it smacks of a shorter project filled out to meet feature length. The result is a film that for the most part spins the wheels until the climax belatedly arrives, itself a confused mess of cliches that no amount of non-linear editing can salvage.

Christopher Machell