Credit: James Kniest
Before We Vanish by Molly Adams Film

The Free Fall — Adam Stilwell

January 27, 2022

The Free Fall fails to balance camp, horror, and thriller in any meaningful and engaging way.

Five years after his debut as a co-director of found footage folk horror The Triangle, Adam Stilwell returns solo with The Free Fall, a horror-mystery that riffs on both psychological woman-in-peril films and occult horror. Following an entirely uninspired opening sequence, The Free Fall follows Sara, a woman who has recently awakened from a coma following a suicide attempt with a home and husband that she has no memory of. As she attempts to piece together memories and establish some kind of normality after the death of her parents, Sara grows wary of her husband, Nick, and his unsettling behavior. 

The Free Fall turns every dial up to eleven, poking even the most inattentive viewer in the eye with its heavy-handed symbolism and playing every melodramatic instinct to its most extreme. Most of it induces eyerolls (such as the wrought-iron decor covering half of the house — we get it, she’s trapped), with Stilwell drawing on an extremely mixed bag of banalities from said woman-in-peril genre work. In the column of clichés perhaps better left alone is Stilwell’s Mrs. Danvers analogue, an imposing housekeeper seeking to undermine the mistress of the house, a role which is written here with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, offering little real menace. Similarly unsubtle, but slightly more effective, is Shawn Ashmore’s turn as the sinister, turtleneck-clad husband, a performance in which he gets to chew scenery via monologues about cannibalism and saying the word “darling” with increasingly threatening intonation. It’s a performance that Ashmore doesn’t really have the physicality or the menace to back up, and his work thus ends up perhaps a bit too unintentionally campy rather than truly frightening, something that may or may not be a dealbreaker for members of the audience. Andrea Londo’s performance as Sara, a character who should be the lynchpin of both the film’s emotional arc and its horror atmosphere, is merely passable, unfortunately unable to make the film any more memorable than most other low-budget horror schlock.

Stilwell truly does jump in with both feet in a few instances, offering an M. Night Shyamalan-worthy twist that may alienate some of the audience but at least indicates some level of unconventional intent, and which is the film’s first (and only) hint of originality. But The Free Fall ultimately isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as it seems to have aspired to, and even the constant insistence on cheesy melodrama that could have elevated it to camp-cult territory likely won’t save it from its fate as a forgettable B-movie. 

Published as part of Before We Vanish | January 2022.