Sometimes, the simplest premises are all you need, and Scott Mann’s thriller Fall has that going for it in spades. Long has the subgenre of survival thrillers flourished in this area. By ascending a 2,000 foot antenna in the desert (masterfully so in its own perfect teaser trailer), Mann and his co-writer Jonathan Frank have picked a unique and uncomplicated setting. The film’s characters and camera explore its peculiarity and scale. True to its name, Fall’s plot exploits mortal fears and gets creative with the desperate measures people reach to keep kicking and screaming with life.
As a trigger to get the blood pumping, acrophobia is an easy target. Afflicting approximately 3-6% of people, it’s one of the most common phobias in the world. There are people watching Fall who don’t like the heebie-jeebies they get standing at the top of a single flight of stairs. Bring out a skinny bare-bones structure nearly twice the size of the Empire State Building, and you might as well inject our cinematic IVs with undiluted anxiety.
All the high wind in the world can’t wick away the sweaty palms and brows watching this movie. That’s the fundamental success of Fall. It takes its simple ingredients, that earmarked source of terror, and twists the proverbial screws (and unscrews a few literal ones for good measure), to ensure the proper heart attack effect.
When you come to this premise of Fall, you just know something or someone has to do just that from this big antenna. It’s a matter of time. Yet, you, as the audience, are happy it’s not you up there stranded. In that voyeuristic safety, ghastly thoughts take over. You don’t just hope for that awfulness, you damn near need it to feel fulfilled by the thrill trip of the movie you’re watching. Gosh, that’s a morbid kind of payoff, but gravity always wins with that kind of wish fulfillment.
Rushing through and echoing a variation of the start of Cliffhanger, gravity indeed won to bring a confidence crashing down with a snap of a rope and the thud of a body attached to it. Becky (Shazam’s Grace Caroline Currey) lost her husband Dan (Mason Gooding of TV’s Love, Victor) a year ago in a rock climbing accident alongside their mutual friend Hunter (Starfish and Runaways star Virginia Gardner). She has wallowed in inconsolable grief and alcohol since the tragedy. Her father James (an extended cameo of sorts for Jeffrey Dean Morgan) cannot motivate her to move on.
The more free-spirited Hunter returns to Becky with her vlogging hustle as a self-documenting thrill seeker. She’s the envelope-pushing influence who’s quick to remind Becky of the courageous edge she lost a year ago. Undeterred, Hunter’s next targeted conquest is the nearby and inactive B67 TV tower. That’s when the wannabe Zen pump-up mantras come out in Fall to hype up the crowd segment that feeds off that type of adrenaline quest:
“If you’re scared of dying, don’t be afraid to live.”
“I want to be remembered for my life over my death.”
“Life is fleeting. Life is short. Too short. So, you gotta use every moment. You have to do something that makes you feel alive. And that sh-t? That would spread that message far and wide.”
Falls stacks those bits of dialogue as morale-boosting bricks all the way until the ending voiceover and beyond into Madison Beer’s smoky “I’ve Never Felt More Alive” closing credits song. With either oorahs or eyerolls, that prodding will either work or frustrate. Many eat that stuff up. Plenty of folks aren’t stepping past the “No Trespassing: Danger of Death” sign on the outer fence and questioning every unanchored step in the climb engineered by stunt coordinators Ingrid Kleinig (the upcoming Barbie) and T.J. White (Palm Springs).
Then, there’s the ugly tower itself, covered in rust and bird droppings and threaded by its lone ladder. It’s a staggering neck-kinker of an inanimate menace. Sure, the visual effects teams are putting our pair of actresses (and their stunt doubles) against digital mattes instead of dangling them on the real thing like they were Tom Cruise. However, Vivarium cinematographer MacGregor aims around the seams with daring angles invisible and imposing enough to trick our eyes.
Thanks to ace sound design work from supervisors Alex Joseph and David Barber, every rung seemingly shakes with each step and cries out with creaking distress. Add in the manufactured wind and everything rattles, including the women and us. The auditory effect is superb and will play wonderfully on the big screen.
Just over a half-hour into Fall, our ladies arrive victorious at the antenna’s topmost service platform. For about nine minutes, the accomplishment is beautiful until the ladder beneath them shears off its moorings and twirls to the ground below in a dusty impact. That’s where our two women are left to their own devices and limited gear to fill the next hour with escalating jeopardy.
In this kind of survival situation, who you are joined by for forced companionship can make all the difference. These two are the best of friends and clearly above average in climbing skills. They have resourceful teamwork and a fighting chance. Still, even those bonds can fray. At what point does panic set in? Who pushes forward? Who gives up? As they are trapped together for hours stretching to days, fatigue and personal twists of past history add to the stresses found on the octagonal ledge shared by Becky and Hunter.
Composer Tim Despic (The Courier) lays on the dread music too little thick in many spots to over-telegraph scary moments. Sometimes, the wind and silence are plenty for the isolation. Making headlines, the use of deepfake AI to digitally dub out over 30 curse words shamefully neuters the exasperating frenzy of it all more than a bit. In combination with these production choices, the screenplay course from Mann and Frank (straight-to-streaming’s Heist and Final Score) is arguably 10 minutes too long and a swerve or two stretching past peak fulfillment.
Survival films like Fall have correlating thresholds for length and dramatic embellishments. The movie muscles squeezing suspense can only flex so long before they soften or fail. Likewise, only so many wild struggles can be piled on before they outgrow whatever ending is coming. Even with some shortcomings in a mighty tall place, the draw of conquering great heights still wins and brings out more than enough nervous perspiration to memorably soak seats.