‘Fall’: The Only Thing You Have to Fear Is Holy-Shit Panic-Inducing Heights
In the satisfyingly corny Fall, directed by Scott Mann, two women get stranded atop a rusted, obsolete TV tower — a slim, rickety death trap that they had no business climbing in the first place. But what would be the fun in playing by the rules?
Grace Caroline Currey plays Becky and Virginia Gardner plays Becky’s best friend, Hunter. They’re a pair of thrill-seekers, one of them coming out of a brief, depressive retirement. It wouldn’t be a modern survival thriller without there being a reason for these women trying to touch the sky from atop a 2,000-foot-tall hunk of metal. So here’s the reason: Almost a year ago, Becky’s partner, Dan, lost a fatal game of peek-a-boo with a bird while the trio was on a climb, and fell to his death. Now, Becky’s life can be summed up in the box of Dan’s ashes collecting dust in some dreary corner of the museum she calls an apartment, where empty alcohol and pill bottles take up more space than dishware or food. In sum: Becky needed to get out of the house.
But she also needed to battle some demons. She’s gone from being a thrill-seeking, adventurous woman to moping around and dressing like a dust rag. Her father (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), from whom she seems semi-estranged (because he didn’t like her dead partner), shows up in her life anyway, to remind her that “there’s a whole big, wide world out there” that needs her. It doesn’t feel true, but it’s what Becky needs to hear — just as, climbing the TV antenna, she needs to hear Hunter tell her that she’s “doing great!” and internalize her pal’s aggressive compliments. Fear: It’s a word you hear pretty often in this movie, because it’s what Becky has come here to conquer. So, watching Fall, we have to give in to Hunter’s proclamations: “If I let you go back down, fear wins.” Shouldn’t fear get to win every once in a while? The answer, in Fall, veers dangerously close to yes.
Fall is a straightforward survival thriller with just enough personality to glue you to your seat. The situation is ridiculous. Friend wants to help friend grab life by the horns and figures only a free-climb up the innards of an abandoned tower, planted dead-center in the middle of a desert, with little in the way of fellow humans, or chances of aid, or phone reception, will get the job done. Hilarity necessarily ensues. Fall knows what we want to see. It gives us the quaking bolts as weight gets applied to the tower’s ladders for the first time since probably the Kennedy era, heightened bouts of wind, and aerial shots that make survival seem impossible. The trouble starts not because they merely climbed the tower but because the structure is apparently no fan of unannounced guests, gently discarding pieces of itself until the womens’ descent seems impossible.
As you would want, the movie starts to pile it on. No access to water, limited juice in the womens’ phones, a drone that likewise needs charging, and an entire human element that needn’t even be in shouting distance to somehow manage to make things worse. That’s what’s good about the movie — the simple genre tricks, the attention to suspense, the swooping views from atop the tower that give you this landscape as only birds get to see it. Hunter and Becky make for a watchable pair of characters, with Currey dialing back Becky’s depression to kick into survival mode, and Hunter — who’s a thrill-seeking YouTuber by trade — garnishing her personality with a little annoyingness, but not enough to seem mocking.
There is, unsurprisingly, a catch. Is it possible for two women in a modern genre movie to be friends without betraying each other for suspense’s sake? It worked for the classic cave-horror flick The Descent because the uncertainty it added was genuine, an extra dollop of character muck that subjected every character’s motivation thereafter to serious question. Here, not so much. Ditto to a plot twist involving a hallucination, a move straight out of the Gravity playbook, that’s appropriate to the situation — the delirium of being stranded in a desert is real — but still risks feeling a little cheap.
Or is Fall better for smoothing over some of its more ridiculous edges in pursuit of the climax that most people expect to see? Some movies need to be original to work. Fall isn’t one of those movies, and it isn’t trying to be. It’s more satisfying for trying to hit the familiar beats with just a hint of nerve. The title names the central fear, the worst-case scenario. And the movie is good enough to make you wonder if the nightmare you’re probably imagining might actually, for these two women, become real.