Director: Scott Mann
Stars: Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding
Here’s the thing. I can watch horror movies ’til the cows come home, and then I can watch the cows (Buffy hive represent), but do you know what really scares me? Heights. I don’t deal well with them. Take me up high, I will fight the urge to lay down flat and grab hold of whatever with both hands. I played through both games of The Last of Us and the scariest bit – by far – was the bridge crossing section in the second with Abby and Lev. Even video game heights bug me. So of course, without thinking, I packed myself off to see Fall on opening weekend because I see every new scare factory going, right? Because I’ll watch ’em ’til the cows come home.
Boasting some of the most intense high-wire hokum this side of Cliffhanger (and that’s going back some years), Fall put me through the wringer. Ladies and gentlemen, I had a time. They’ve plushed out those arm rests in our local Vue cinema. Good job, too, because I was grabbing at them like Chris in Get Out. I put my shirt collar in my mouth at one point. So, if nothing else, Scott Mann’s survival thriller knows how to play its audience.
Fortunately, it has a few other appealing facets, too. This is B-movie silliness of the highest (literally!) order, and judged on those merits and those moves, it scores bigtime as a white-knuckle trip to the flicks. More than it’s curio high concept and seemingly-inflated running time (107 minutes??) might suggest.
A particularly cold open sets out it’s stall. While climbing the sheer face of a mountain, married couple Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Dan (Mason Gooding) get into difficulty. Dan ultimately falls to his death, leaving Becky devastated and their mutual friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) stunned. Flash forward almost a year and Becky has hit bottom without Dan, whose ashes remain packaged up in her apartment. Dear dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) tries to reach out without success. Thrill-seeking Hunter, however, has better luck.
Proposing an anniversary climb of a decommissioned radio tower out in the desert, Hunter lures Becky back to extreme sports as a ploy to conquer her fears. Against all good sense (of course), it works. The two make the trip to the rickety structure; some 2,000ft of vertical laddering with a small platform on top. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Enjoying the ride of these high-concept survival movies means playing along with their tropes, several of which occur here. Yes, there’s going to be no phone service. Yes, you’re going to think of solutions before the characters do. Yes, you wouldn’t have gone in the first place. Poo-pooing Fall and it’s ilk is missing the point; a little like yelling at characters in slasher movies for running upstairs. Often times, your frustration is being deliberately provoked to put you in simpatico with the situation.
Fall‘s director Scott Mann has some seasoning in action thrillers (his former star Dave Bautista gets an improbable shout-out here), but also the résumé and experience of a genre journeyman. He uses this opportunity – this gimmick if you will – to announce himself. Becky and Hunter’s initial climb of the tower is handled with theatrical aplomb, wringing every ounce of tension and suspense out of their foolhardy venture. Once the duo are marooned on the small platform at the top of the structure, things bed down a little. Mann and his co-writer Jonathan Frank pepper in some juicy soap opera drama between the two women to alter the dynamics, and the actors take to it with spice.
Effectively a two-woman show, Gardner and Currey deserve their props. While Hunter’s vlogging persona ‘Danger D’ is deliberately irksome (“tits out for clicks”), Gardner delineates between this facade and the woman behind it. Currey’s Becky, meanwhile, has the tools to break down her friend’s veneer. The actors play at different tempos but are wholly believable as firm, lifelong friends.
No one’s here for subtlety, however, and let’s not pretend that Fall is groundbreaking human drama. It’s a ride. But the earnest work helps flesh out that seemingly baggy running time, while Mann keeps the visuals interesting in spite of the constraints of the movie’s location. Night scenes are rendered otherworldly by the red beacon that sits a top the tower to signal aircraft, and he always has the dizzying dynamic of their position at his disposable to maximise viewer discomfort.
Come the third act, Fall embraces other traditions of such genre fare, and the audience should too. A batty twist and some questionable decisions will likely divide viewers into those who play along and those who don’t. To those who don’t I’d simply ask why deny yourself the fun on offer? Fall has some ’00s nostalgia to it. This is a survival thriller that mixes in a grimy dose of torture porn cruelty.
As a result, if she doesn’t land major roles elsewhere, genre pictures will forever have a home for Currey, whose battling and embittered survivor spirit as Becky (a full character transformation) is first rate and who, the bloodier and dirtier and gutsier she gets, looks more and more like the heir to the throne of on-screen Lara Croft (dubious as that may be). Seriously, she kills it here.
And Mann? He and his team have secured themselves a bargaining chip for whatever comes next, and he’s positioned himself as a peer of Jaume Collet-Serra, whose The Shallows is, in a way, the inverse of Fall. Blake Lively didn’t have a friend out on those rocks, though. And ultimately while the thrills and spills are aplenty, it’s the try-hard spirit between Becky and Hunter that helps this one soar.