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Review: 'Fall' Is a Survival Thriller that Kicks Fear in the Ass

By Sara Clements | Film | August 12, 2022 |

By Sara Clements | Film | August 12, 2022 |


It feels odd to see a wide release of a B-movie action thriller like Fall in a cinematic landscape dominated by ones on multi-million dollar Marvel budgets. It’s especially rare to see a film like this at the theatre nearest to my home, which is in Canada and not in a major city. These moments are special because, despite budgetary constraints, films like these in the genre employ practicality in their craft to create a work that feels more grounded but remains immersive to a nerve-wracking degree.

Scott Mann’s latest feature introduces a widow in mourning. It’s been a year since Becky (Grace Caroline Currey)’s husband Dan (Mason Gooding) died in a tragic climbing accident and she’s still drowning in grief — and booze. The trauma of witnessing the accident, combined with the loss in general, has made her lose herself and her will to live. Her Dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a small role) is desperate for her to move on. His tough love and hope for her to live her life again seem unsupportive to her, so she pushes him away. She wants to be alone. Then, her best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) comes knocking with a proposal: to climb the real-life, 2,000-foot-high B67 TV tower. Climbing together would be just like old times, and scaling what was once the highest structure in the United States would be an undeniably momentous feat. Becky, understandably, is hesitant; she hasn’t climbed since the accident. She eventually agrees, despite how petrified she is.

The audience only gets to see Hunter and Becky climb once before this. We know they loved to climb and push themselves to their limits, but we get no sense of how experienced they actually are. And with Hunter showing up to the biggest climb of their lives wearing Converse and vlogging to her thousands of followers, it seems she’s either really confident in her experience or a daredevil thrill-seeker out for clicks. Hunter’s positivity and confidence give Becky the convincing she needs, but pushing someone to essentially relive their trauma leaves an ill taste. Hunter’s intensity comes off as manipulative at times in how she convinces Becky to do things by reminding her of how she used to be. In what is supposed to be an emotional experience of learning to find the strength to overcome trauma, it loses a bit of its impact because Hunter comes off as unlikable and without Becky’s interests at heart. Luckily, we learn that there’s more to Hunter than meets the eye; Mann and Jonathan Frank’s script cares just as much about exposition as it does the titular fall.

Hunter and Becky’s ascent begins 20 minutes into the film, so stretching it out for over an hour is an impressive feat in itself — especially to make it engaging throughout. Mann and Frank do this with ease. Fall does carry predictability in that you know something bad is going to happen and it’s just a waiting game until it does. What isn’t predictable, though, is how they’ll survive. It could play out in so many ways, but with every new solution, there is a new problem. When inevitable disaster arrives, it’s intense. The action created by impressive stunt work is both terrifying and exhilarating to watch. The filmmakers tap into the fear that we ourselves would feel enduring an experience like that. Closely focused on the characters in this way and spending so much time with them on a small, circular platform at thousands of feet in the air, you can feel everything they are feeling. Every deep breath in desperation to keep calm results in us holding our own breaths. While doing some MacGyver shit and braving the elements, tinges of psychological horror emerge as Becky’s trauma manifests. The script gets to a point where it convinces you of nothing but hopelessness.

The character’s decisions create almost unbearable anxiety. What is also knuckle-whitening is the superb sound design and score. While this is first and foremost a survival thriller, it veers into horror sometimes in its sound design, like when the tower creaks ominously. It sounds like a haunted house coming alive on a stormy night. You can hear everything, from the rope pulling between Hunter and Becky, to the clink of their belt clips and their tight crip of the ladder — the only thing between them and death. Tim Despic’s booming score makes the action even more nail-biting. Then, there’s MacGregor’s cinematography, which really emphasizes why this is a film to see on the biggest screen. Wide shots of the barren landscape below and worm’s eye views of the tower pushing up into infinity are vertigo-inducing. The queasiness that results from this cinematography adds to the stakes, as do the many shots of the tower’s many loose bolts and rotting beams. The camera is the most effective technical element at hammering home the danger of it all and building anticipation for impending disaster.

We get to spend the majority of the film with its leads in a singular space. How the narrative keeps us hooked has a lot to do with how the characters are written and the performances of its stars. With so much time up in the air, the pair are able to unpack a lot about how Dan’s death affected them and goes on to explain why Hunter is the way she is. The tower may be the show’s real star, but Mann and Frank don’t forget to build their characters’ layers. The charisma of the two leads and the difference between their characters creates an exciting dynamic. Gardner as Hunter is bubbly and emotive, whereas Currey lowers Becky’s heartbroken shell in bits and pieces, revealing a character with immense perseverance compared to the more listless version we are first introduced to.

Fall takes some dives. Some already highlighted above, but there are also elements of the script that are cliched, with one twist revealed, perhaps to keep things interesting, that really wasn’t a necessary conflict. While the story emphasizes the importance of experiences, the decision to include narration about how we have to do things to make us feel alive because life is too short, with what just happens in the back of our minds, is laughably poor. Thankfully, though, the film soars in many more areas, especially in its meditation on overcoming grief, forgiveness and kicking fear in the ass.

Header Image Source: Lionsgate