Survival tales come in all shapes in sizes, but there’s a special charm to the ones seeking suspense and tension in a single location. This is especially true for survival movies that forgo an antagonist threat and instead pit its characters against nothing more than nature and the situation at hand. Think 127 Hours (2010) and All is Lost (2013), and you’ll be in the right mindset for Scott Mann‘s new thriller, Fall. It’s a suspenseful, well-crafted thriller with characters you root for, and it could easily be retitled 610 Meters Up as it puts two young women high up a tower with no way down. Well, no way but the worst way.
Becky’s (Grace Caroline Currey) husband died while climbing a cliff nearly a year ago, and it’s left her a shell of who she once was. She drinks to excess and isolates from those who love her, including both her dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner), who was also there with them on that fateful day. Hoping to get her back on the proverbial horse, Hunter shows up at Becky’s door and convinces her to join her latest viral stunt — climbing a TV antenna tower that reaches over two thousand feet into the sky. Becky reluctantly says yes, but it’s only after reaching the top that they realize their way back down is no longer an option.
Fall is a film destined for nitpicking as certain character choices are questionable and an unnecessary subplot is dropped in, but it delivers where it counts with suspense, thrills, and some acrophobia-inducing visual effects. It may not rise to the level of the two sub-genre examples above, but the film still gives us characters worth cheering on in a tension-filled situation, and that’s more than enough for a hundred minutes of your time.
The majority of Fall is set two thousand feet up on a relatively small platform, so the film’s biggest challenge immediately becomes convincing viewers of that “reality.” There are a couple lapses in visual quality here and there, but the bulk of the running time succeeds in cementing that illusion. Credit is due equally to the visual effects teams, cinematographer MacGregor, and Mann for understanding how important that element is to the film’s success. We feel the jaw-dropping height, whether looking straight down or via wide shots showing the characters climbing the rickety ladder and standing atop it all.
The other big factor at play rests on the shoulders of both its lead characters and lead performers. The script (by Mann and Jonathan Frank) risks bringing Hunter, and to a lesser degree Becky, to the brink of unlikeability, but both are salvaged through the writing and the performances. Hunter, in particular, is the irresponsible daredevil prone to shaking ladders and tossing out phrases like “tits for clicks,” but she’s no one-note asshole. Gardner finds empathy, just as she did in 2018’s Halloween, as a brave risk-taker willing to do anything to save the ones she cares about. Becky panics while Hunter exudes confidence, and it shows a calming respect for the skills behind her admittedly irresponsible behavior. Currey’s role is no easier, but she does good work with a character climbing her way back up towards choosing life leading to a well-crafted emotional beat or two.
On that note, Fall sees its characters make plenty of smart calls — obviously coming after their initially dumb one to climb the tower in the first place — in regard to their situation and need for help. The pair get pretty creative given the circumstances seeing as their cells don’t work that high, no one knows they’re there, and it’s in a fairly remote stretch of desert with very little traffic. A flare gun, a drone, and ingenious riffs on the “egg drop challenge” all come into play with varying results. The only real issue regarding smart choices is the pair’s lack of safety lines given the height, wind, and knowledge that the damn movie opens with someone falling to their death.
It may be a single location thriller, a very small single location, but Mann utilizes the vertical well to incorporate action beats anyway. From short falls to rope swings, the characters are put through a physical wringer that goes beyond hunger, thirst, and sunstroke. Mann’s previous films found action thrills both fun (The Tournament, 2009) and B-movie serious (Final Score, 2018), but here he uses them create tension and suspense with some nail-biting set-pieces. Hell, most of the movie is a set-piece given the single locale atop the tower, and it’s used beautifully to squeeze out every ounce of anxiety-inducing terror.
Fall has its faults, mostly in certain character beats and choices early on, but it overcomes them through sheer will power to reach some thrilling highs. For all the technical talents involved, though, the film lives or dies on the strength of its two leads, and happily both do strong work with their characters. Add in some circling vultures which deliver a couple very cool beats to the film, and you have a thriller that’s as engaging, entertaining, and worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.