A shark cage 47 metres below the surface. A rickety ski-lift dangling above a pack of hungry wolves. And now, a precarious platform at the top of a 2,000 ft disused TV tower. Yes, this subgenre of thrillers – being trapped in a seemingly impossible life-or-death situation – has been around in cinema for some time now, but there are still ways to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Scott Mann’s FALL is certainly derivative of what has come before it, but there’s no denying the raw, dizzying thrills it has to offer.
The film opens with a Cliffhanger-esque prologue where we learn that Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) lost her husband Dan (Mason Gooding) on a fateful climb, as his rope fails and he plummets to his death. Even more ropey, however, is the CGI in this early sequence – which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence for what is to come. The film’s minimal $3mil budget is entirely evident. The next 20 or so minutes deal with Becky and best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner), who was also on the climb, as they deal with their grief in different ways. Becky wants to never climb again, while Hunter – misunderstanding Becky’s dad’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) advice to try and cheer her up – suggests they climb a 2,000 ft disused TV tower to scatter Dan’s ashes.
After an uncomfortable and intense climbing sequence during which we are frequently shown the rust damage and loose bolts up the tower, the girls safely make it to the top. Cue irresponsible selfies and adrenaline junkie stunts that will have any sensible viewer losing any sympathy in the characters almost instantly. As they attempt to begin their descent, the ladder breaks away, and the girls are stranded atop the tower with – surprise surprise – no phone signal.
From this point on, FALL is exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for a relatively mindless pulse-pounding thriller, the film excels – there are some genuinely harrowing and vertigo-inducing sequences that will have you screaming at the screen, as Becky and Hunter make increasingly dangerous attempts to get help. The shoddy CGI of the film’s prologue thankfully largely becomes a distant memory; while the film’s low budget is always felt in its visuals, the lion’s share of the film atop the tower looks considerably stronger than the opening. It’s far from perfect, but perfectly serviceable for this kind of schlocky adrenaline thriller. The uncut version, now available on home release, makes the grisly bits even grislier – and thus amps up the shock factor even more.
The film is surprisingly compelling in its characters, too – both Becky and Hunter feel developed, and the performances of Currey and Gardner bring them to life brilliantly. The twists in the tale are certainly hit-and-miss, the first of which is so predictable, it feels almost laughable when it is attempted to be delivered as a big shock. And the later twist is lifted almost exactly from one of the similar films referenced in this review’s introduction. The repetitive nature of the early chunk of the film does become tiresome, too – Becky breaking down saying she can’t do it, Hunter saying things like “kick fear in the dick”, Becky pushing forward. Rinse, lather, repeat.
But let’s face it, viewers aren’t here for the personal drama between the characters or narrative mystery – they’re here for the thrills and the horrors of isolation, 2,000ft into the air on a tiny platform, facing everything from dehydration to hungry vultures to storms. Viewers looking for a powerful study of grief and loss should look elsewhere, as the cliché-ridden dialogue on the subject of moving on – mostly delegated to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s one-note father character – is a little tedious.
Ultimately though, FALL harks back to a bygone era of simple, high concept thrillers with ridiculous premises. There’s something charmingly nostalgic about its simplicity, and it’s certainly nice to see a silly film like this on the big-screen alongside the more traditional blockbuster fare from Marvel and co. While budget limitations may occasionally hinder the bigger shocks from registering, FALL is a compelling and harrowing tale of survival. 3.5/5