If you’re scared of dying, do not be afraid to live. Becky’s (Grace Caroline Currey) will to live has been shattered since the loss of her husband, Dan (Mason Gooding) nearly one year ago in a climbing accident. She drowns her grief in booze, which concerns her father, James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Refusing to listen to his pleas of moving on because “If the roles were reversed, Dan would have moved on,” James turns to Becky’s best friend, Hunter (Virginia Gardner). Hunter was the only other person there during the tragic day and she distanced herself afterwards after not knowing how to provide her emotional support. Hunter—a thrill seeker with a building social media presence, proposes a climb to the top of a 2,000-foot radio tower. Sure, it’s good for clicks, but as importantly, it allows Becky to come full circle and kick fear in the ass. 2000 feet is a long way up, and a long Fall down should the slightest of variables go wrong. And there are a lot of those.
Movies like 47 Meters Down, Crawl, and The Shallows aren’t quite the same as Fall. Those movies had familiar antagonistic threats seen in features; the threat in Fall is a familiar one but not represented with a ton of frequency. Outside of The Walk, one usually has to go to something like, say, Everest or documentaries like Free Solo and The Alpinist to experience the unnerving highs and lows of being high off the ground. The familiarity Fall does share with those aforementioned movies? Survival, and for the first 40 minutes, it happens to be quite exciting in that endeavor. But the remaining hour is an exercise in doing too much and not staying between the lines.
A film like Fall is worth praise technically. Director (and co-writer) Scott Mann goes to extreme lengths to make the scaling as weighty as possible. That includes no green screen, and while it’s evident the actresses didn’t climb the reported 2,000-feet tower referenced like one Tom Cruise did in Ghost Protocol, they’re not doing nothing. Mann filmed in the Mojave desert and the setting lends itself to a dry and arid feel. His potential as a filmmaker is again best showcased during the climb sequence itself, a rather harrowing view even as we know nothing too shocking will happen during the ascent. However, could have done without the constant male gaze. I do wonder what a purely diegetic approach would have been like as opposed to the sometimes overbearing score; I imagine the feeling of immersion increases twofold in this alternate reality.
When they fully lean into their kaizen-like leanness spearheaded by one-sentence synopses, these movies are perfect little viewings that rarely exceed 90 minutes. It is when these movies aspire to be rungs above their high floor usually due to some confluence of unnecessary script twists and odd directing choices that their gaps become noticeable. For Fall, the decline starts after our protagonists reach the top, and the story written by Mann and Jonathan Frank quickly reveals itself to be in possession of less thrills than anticipated (there are about one-two intense sequences in the latter half but seeing two people converse about how screwed they are doesn’t exactly make for riveting cinema). The twists they do employ suggest a lack of faith in telling a straightforward story. At least I’ll never look at vultures the same again, so there’s that.
From a physical perspective, Currey and Gardner are very believable as one-time climbing enthusiast and adrenaline junkie. As characters, they are either grating (Hunter) or undefined outside of one aspect (Becky – grief), and the two are missing the friendly chemistry a movie like this is in need of. Don’t expect much from the most accomplished of cast members here in Morgan; he barely totals five minutes of screentime.
If there was a higher willingness to use more grounding in the writing of Fall, the direct result would likely be a better, more taut (and shorter) film with higher overall lasting quality. With these genre flicks, less is almost always the preferred route, even when that route is several football fields up in the sky.
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