You can almost imagine the ’70s B-movie disaster-movie-poster tagline for Fall: something along the lines of “2,000 feet of TV tower terror!” This is an enjoyably throwback breed of thriller, a movie only interested in making your palms leak sweat and your adrenal glands go into overdrive. In those modest goals, it is entirely successful.
It’s a ruthlessly efficient genre exercise. Characters and their respective motives are established quickly and unfussily: Hunter (Virginia Gardner, in a fearlessly fun turn) is a thrill-seeking YouTuber chasing clout by clambering up the fictional tower; her best pal Becky (Grace Caroline Currey, the emotional anchor and audience surrogate for the “nope!” moments) is a grieving widower hoping to conquer her climbing fears. Both are seeking closure after tragedy hit 12 months earlier, in a Mission: Impossible 2-style opening sequence (a comparison openly embraced when one character calls another “Ethan Hunt”).
So, against all available better judgement, the pair of friends agree to make the climb up the “fourth-tallest structure in the United States”, and within 20 minutes of elapsed runtime they're ascending the ladder. Soon enough, the rusty steel cables start rattling, and so do your nerves, leaving us under no illusions as to what kind of film this is. Essentially it’s a series of problems being solved under extreme conditions (How do we find a phone signal? How do we drink water? How do we wee?); setbacks piling up and minor victories being achieved. While that means it follows a fairly familiar route, there’s room for at least one major surprise.
Scott Mann’s direction and MacGregor’s vertiginous cinematography do a decent job of making a boringly functional structure look cinematic and exciting.
But it hardly matters if the plot is somewhat formulaic because the experience is so brilliantly executed; so richly, stupidly, edge-of-your-seat exciting. Scott Mann’s direction and MacGregor’s vertiginous cinematography do a decent job of making a boringly functional structure look cinematic and exciting; when a character looks down at one point, the camera whips down too. There are CGI and green screens, inevitably, but the location photography in California’s Shadow Mountains makes full use of natural light and big skies, totally selling the danger.
It’s silly. Of course it’s silly. You don’t need a science degree to know that multiple laws of physics are being defied. There are terrible decisions being made roughly every ten or 15 minutes (“It feels solid,” one character says of a ladder that looks anything but). There is dialogue about personal drama that feels like it could probably wait until after they’ve sorted all the life-or-death stuff first. It doesn’t matter: Fall aims to thrill, and succeeds with flying, vertigo-inducing colours.