If you’re scared of heights, this movie will ruin your day.
Scott Mann’s Fall, which he co-wrote with Jonathan Frank, works hard to impart several different “live, laugh, love” platitudes during its nearly two-hour runtime. Characters ramble off phrases like “You need to start living your life again” with saccharine sincerity. A culminating greeting-card rejoinder, “If you’re scared of dying, don’t be afraid to live” is enough to convince protagonist Becky (Grace Caroline) to ascend an abandoned radio tower despite a year spent in isolation drinking herself to death after the passing of her husband, Dan (Mason Gooding of Scream) in a climbing accident less than a year before.
Fall wants audiences to believe that. It’s what makes a survival horror movie. No one can simply endure freak accidents or precarious predicaments without walking away all the better for it. Yet, for all its posturing otherwise, Fall arrives at a pretty clear, though likely unintentional, message: don’t climb. Ever.
Scott Mann previously helmed The Tournament, a similarly high-concept yarn involving dangerous assassins duking it out for their lives. Fall, his first major release in over a decade, coasts by on similar merits. Where characters falter and logic dissolves, high-concept plotting keeps things moving swiftly. Becky agrees to climb with best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner, Halloween, Starfish), a plucky daredevil. Becky has cultivated her grief over Dan’s death into a semi-successful social media following. The tower itself, an imposing behemoth, turns stomachs before either character starts their climb. It’s tall, really tall, and Mann takes perverse, effective pleasure in framing it for all it is.
There are early bits of foreshadowing—circling vultures, loose screws—and while they successfully compound the tension given the foregone conclusion (both Becky and Hunter will find themselves trapped atop it), narrative contrivances stand to undermine Mann’s navigation of a surefire premise. I’m not a climber. Yet, in broad terms, the top rope technique Becky and Hunter make use of appears to be mechanically sound. Less so are the dozen other mistakes even a non-climber like myself could see.
Even without the vantage point of being 2,000 feet in the air, something is amiss. Neither tells anyone where they’re going. Not even Jeffrey Dean Morgan, playing Becky’s woebegone father, knows. Additionally, given the structural decay of the tower, it’s incredulous that two experienced climbers wouldn’t take even a moment to inspect whether it can hold up to serious ascension (spoiler: it cannot).
Suspension of disbelief is par for the course in any survival horror movie. Here, it’s compounded scene to scene, beat to beat. The organic dangers both face should have been sufficient. Yet, Mann and Frank insist on peripherally adding to the already perilous scenario with a bevy of bad decisions. Luckily, there is enough Final Destination teases of quivering cords and quaking ladder rungs to compensate for two myopic leads.
And that, truly, is where Fall finds its spark. A combination of high and low-angle shots augment the acrophobia, and Fall is blood-curdlingly efficient at igniting terror from a simple shot toward the ground. It’s theatrical in scale, cinematic in execution. While at times it feels more akin to a technical marvel than anything else, there’s no denying the innate terror as the camera pans down, 2,000 feet to the surface.
While Mann effectively milks that for all it’s worth, Fall runs its course before the end. Running considerably longer than it needed to, with ample room to cut a failed rescue attempt or two, Fall arrives at a ludicrous, climactic twist borrowed from another popular survival thriller from just a few years ago. It’s almost enough to sour everything that came before, sapping Fall of its forthcoming tension as it ambles, not sprints, toward its lackluster final moments.
Altogether, though, Fall is worth a look for the premise alone. While neither of the leads are given much to do, Caroline and Gardner draw from a well of intense physicality, remaining eminently watchable even if their characters never ascend beyond archetypes themselves. Mann and Scott have a few clever ideas up their sleeves and a premise guaranteed to win. Come for the climb, even if the view itself isn’t much to write home about.
Fall is an acrophobic’s nightmare, but it never quite ascends beyond its winning premise.