Fall is a movie that makes you clench every muscle in your body. After a 15-minute set-up, the picture delivers a nearly non-stop series of events that play on a fear of heights. Every time you think it won't possibly be able to top itself, it does. I made spontaneous exclamations to the screen as I watched. I squirmed in my seat virtually the entire time. At one point, I involuntarily (and painfully) bit my finger, which I'd unknowingly put in my mouth in discomfort. The film is that intense. I saw The Walk in 3D, twice, and Fall may have topped that experience, even in mere 2D.
Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) is mourning the death of her husband in a rock-climbing excursion they went on a year ago. Best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) thinks she needs to get back on the horse, so to speak. She suggests they go on a new adventure, specifically one that entails climbing an abandoned, 2000-foot high radio tower in the middle of nowhere. Becky is reluctant at first, although when Hunter suggests they scatter her late husband's ashes from the top, she relents. The climb is white-knuckle all the way. When they reach the halfway mark, Hunter helpfully points out that they've climbed the height of the Eiffel Tower.
The first 1,800 feet are ascended via a ladder in the center of the tower. The last 200 utilize an exterior ladder that leads to a tiny platform at the top. Hunter makes up it. Right as Becky approaches the top, the ladder collapses, leaving both of them stranded on that platform, far above the level where there's cell phone reception. Fall charts what happens as they struggle to determine whether there's any possible way to get down or call for help.
Regular readers will recognize Fall as our old friend, the Ordeal Movie. These are films where the audience vicariously goes through an unimaginable ordeal right along with the lead character(s). Success of such movies depends on how well they fray your nerves. Director Scott Mann and his co-writer Jonathan Frank ingeniously add one new peril after another for Becky and Hunter to face. Many of them require the women to dangle off the edge of the platform. Others are more survival-based, as the effects of lacking food and drink take a toll. Those are clever, as are the methods the women come up with to signal for help. These characters are smart, which goes a long way toward making the predicament more harrowing for the audience.
Aside from two or three terrible CGI shots, everything in Fall looks completely convincing. Currey and Gardner most certainly were not 2,000 feet in the air, but the illusion that they are is done so well that it evokes a physical reaction. Saying you grip your armrests during a suspenseful movie is a cliché; in this case, however, it's absolutely true. If you are queasy about heights, you will 100% be hanging onto your seat for dear life. The sensation is that powerful.
In the middle of the story is a meaningful arc between the leads. Even if you see what's coming in advance, as eagle-eyed viewers will, it in no way diminishes the potency of what transpires between the women. That's because the actresses do a very good job of making their characters feel like real people, rather than props in a thriller. Yes, when they're conveying horror and fear, it's believable. They are just as believable conveying the ups and downs of Becky and Hunter's friendship. Having a personal angle invests us further in their effort to survive.
Fall has kind of a dumb plot development toward the end. At least it ties in to the resolution of the scenario. That mitigates the implausibility of it slightly. Besides, the vertiginous nature of the film makes it easy to forgive a couple minor flaws. Two factors were essential for Fall to work – the audience has to believe the actresses are at a terrifying height, and the performances have to accentuate the action rather than being swallowed by it. Both those factors are met, allowing the picture to achieve its goal of making you so tense you can barely stand it.
I loved Fall, and was extremely glad when it was over.
out of four
Fall is rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense peril, and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.