Acrophobia, or an intense fear of heights, is a phobia that seems like a match made in heaven with cinema’s horror/thriller genres. In director Scott Mann’s Fall, two female thrill seekers, Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) are looking to climb an abandoned TV tower (which we are told is the fourth-highest structure in the U.S.) Before this climb, there were some obligatory bad omens. Vultures are seen eating at a fox while menacing music plays in the background. The rusty structure gives with every pull, and bolts rattle with each motion upward. Fall wants to tap into the particular type of helplessness you can only experience high up in the air — to the tenth power. Even with a brief reprieve, the film provides the audience with a sense if something can go wrong, it will.
However, it’s not enough that characters willingly place themselves in danger for the thrill of it. There must be some backstory investment. Before this death-defying stunt, Becky, her husband Dan (Mason Gooding), and Hunter shared rock climbing as an activity to bond them all together. Dan does a bit of showboating and accidentally falls to his death. But as many of these films go, there’s a brief instance where Dan could be saved until that tragic moment. From there, Becky falls into a depressive cocoon. Her father, James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), tries to reach out to her for her to confide in somebody, to no avail. Ultimately, Becky reluctantly joins Hunter on this hazardous feat to escape the grasp of her funk.
It’s true that we all process grief differently, and Mann and co-writer Jonathan Frank try to convey that through character personality rather than total development. When we see Hunter again, she’s taken on a “you only live once” persona who is deep in building a social media following her adventures. As they ascend to the top of the tower, Becky is justifiably scared to death. At Hunter’s behest, both women move past satellites and tight spaces to reach their goal of thinking of how beautiful the top of the tower can be. After concluding their celebratory selfies and video, things go downhill fast. The ladder breaks down, and they lose the backpack containing the only ounce of water they have. All they have is each other on a small platform.
Fall provides the usual “all hope is lost” parameters, while the cinematography serves as a reminder of how vast and dry the desert is. They have a drone with a small amount of batter, binoculars, a flare gun with a couple of shots, and cell phones which are useless from their height. The narrative clock never stops running and provides some tense moments as days go on. These types of films require suspension of disbelief — a notion that gets tested when certain injuries occur. Still, we’re living in the moment.
The aspect Fall loses its steam on is the connective tissue between previous actions of the characters and why the audience should invest in their wellbeing outside the obvious. Becky already has a built-in redemption arc in finding the inner strength to get over her husband’s death. Some people might choose therapy or yoga — but not Becky and Hunter. When the film tries to highlight Hunter’s hurt in a messy backstory seeking to make animosity between her and Becky, it falls apart. When Fall isn’t using every way to get your anxiety high, the story highlights why elements like Dean Morgan’s character should have been utilized fully.
Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner do the most with their limited resources (from a physical and story standpoint). Fall succeeds when it leans into its extreme aspects and sudden twists. The intermingling of emotional beats and campiness may have you laughing in places you’re not supposed to. The phrase “don’t look down” holds much more weight when you’re sixty feet in the air trying to survive. Maybe Fall will make you venture up that ladder carefully or close your eyes while on that flight. Anything more may want to come back to earth.
Photo Credit: Lionsgate Pictures