Among our most primal fears—of the dark, of extreme weather, of public speaking—it’s the fear of falling that most commonly haunts our nightmares. The corny yet satisfying new thriller, Fall, directed by Scott Mann from a screenplay by Mann and Jonathan Frank, giddily exploits this fear, wringing every last drop of suspense from its stripped-down scenario. It overstays its welcome, but honors its basic commitment to giving you sweaty palms.
Best friends Becky (Grace Caroline Curry) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) love to climb, but Becky hangs up her rope and carabiners after her husband falls to his death while scaling a granite monolith. The devil-may-care Hunter, an aspiring YouTuber, pulls Becky reluctantly out of retirement to face the challenge of a lifetime: ascending a derelict TV tower in the middle of the desert. After some smooth climbing—the camera and soundtrack savoring every rusty plank and loose screw on the way up—the ladder gives way and strands them at the top of the tower, 2,000 feet in the air.
Ever since Hitchcock marooned several disparate characters in a lifeboat, movies have thrived on confined spaces: Ryan Reynolds buried in a box (Buried); his wife Blake Lively trapped in the shallows (The Shallows); five people stuck in an elevator—and one of them is Satan (Devil). In its own high concept, low rent sort of way, Fall continues this tradition without trying to innovate. Essentially shipwrecked on a desert island in the sky, the main characters are forced to rely, Robinson Crusoe-like, on available resources. A phone, a backpack, a drone camera, even the flashing red bulb at the top of the spire, all play important narrative functions.
If Fall had taken more risks or challenged the audience’s intelligence, it may have proven to be an instant mini-classic, but the script is swimming with clichés, from its emotional arcs (“If I let you go back now, fear wins”) to its tidy resolution. Clocking in at one-and-a-quarter hours, Mann pads his simple scenario with gratuitous character beats and telegraphs almost every narrative turn. The filmmakers do, however, manage to conceal a nifty third-act twist that alley-oops the movie, if ever so briefly, into a different genre altogether.
Curry and Gardner both do what they can with their limited characters, handling the quieter scenes with skill, although at times they seem awfully casual for two folks sitting on a tiny platform on top of a needle twice the height of the Eiffel Tower, with the wind, sun, and a pack of hungry vultures as adversaries. But Fall’s main attraction, and the primary source of its visual pleasure, is the freestanding, red latticed tower itself, identified as the “B-67” and possibly inspired by the WHDH-TV tower in Massachusetts. Improbably built and impossibly tall, it’ll give even the steeliest moviegoers a dizzy spell.
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