Review: Fall Crackles with Relationship Drama and Vertigo-Inducing Filmmaking

The idea of facing one’s fears head-on is hardly a new one, but when the fear in question used to be a passion, that seems especially important to face. That’s more or less the starting-off point for the new white-knuckle thriller Fall, about Becky (Grace Caroline Currey), whose husband (Mason Gooding) dies in front of her during a rock climbing trip. As a result, she carries the pain of that death with her by refusing the climb again, choosing instead to listen to his outgoing voicemail just to hear his voice. But when her best friend, Hunter (Virginia Gardner), who was also on the initial climb, talks her into scaling a 2000-ft.-tall radio tower in a remote location, that’s when things get dicey and the film soars.

Directed skillfully and economically by Scott Mann (Final Score, The Tournament, who co-wrote the film with Jonathan Frank), Fall succeeds primarily because we care about these two women making this perilous journey. For Becky, it’s a chance to regain something in her life she genuinely enjoys, while Hunter has a few demons of her own to rid herself of. They are expert climbers, and since the tower has a ladder, this climb is more about steeling oneself against the excessive height and being strong enough to climb 2000 feet straight up. So of course, as they begin the final few feet, the rusty bolts pop out and the ladder begins to peel back from the impossibly narrow tower. They eventually make it to a ridiculously tiny platform at the top, but their supplies have fallen many feet below onto the dishes of the antenna.

The film takes its climbing and survival skills seriously. Hunter is always calm and never panics, while Becky struggles because she wasn’t ever quite sure she was ready to make such a climb again without her husband. She’s had to live with the voice of her father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) telling her that her husband wasn’t good enough for her since before they go married, and when he reaches out to her after the husband dies, she rejects him. Aside from the emotional energy that keeps Fall crackling, there’s the attention to detail on the technical side of things. Naturally, they don’t get phone reception that high, but they did get it on the ground, so they have to find a way to toss a phone to the ground with a pre-programmed message, without it shattering. The solution is simple, but not without risk, and that goes for pretty much every choice they make on that tower, from figuring out how to retrieve the backpack with supplies to fending off attacking vultures that smell the blood on Becky’s leg from a cut she sustained when things first started to go wrong.

At one point, they spot people down below; those people do not exactly do what is expected when they realize someone is trapped on the tower; if they had, it would have been a very different (and much shorter movie). The women spend a lot of time talking—sometimes reasoning out their next move, other times simply rethinking what came before that got them to where they are. Revelations occur, the film has a twist I did not see coming, and in the end, survival comes down to Becky being able to keep it together enough and get through her grief long enough to live through another day.

I know how movies are made, yet watching Fall, I do not know how they shot this movie. All of it looks like they simply dropped two actors on top of a gigantic tower and let them put on a show that involves a whole lot of acting and even more climbing. There are shots that made my heart pound and my stomach turn, and when it was all over, I allowed myself to exhale and breathe normally. If you have issues with heights, Fall may not be for you; then again, that’s the point of the movie: looking your fear straight in the eye and kicking its ass. Director Mann moves his camera with confidence, but he also isn’t afraid to simply let it rest on his actors for stretches, just long enough to let you forget where you are before he pulls back and reminds you with a straight shot of vertigo to your brain. It may run a bit too long and the characters may fell thinly drawn, but that didn’t stop me from really loving the singular experience of watching Fall.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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