Fall is an utterly dull would-be thriller that squanders the visual possibility of its premise and trades only in inane melodrama.
2018’s Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo captured climber Alex Honnold successfully navigating the sheer rock face of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan sans any rope or safety equipment. The footage courtesy of directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and their filmmaking crew ranks as some of the most breathtaking and nerve-shredding imagery in modern cinematic history. Meanwhile, on the fictional side of film, one-man wonder Tom Cruise is quite literally hanging off jagged rock cliffs and rappelling down the Burj Khalifa in the Mission: Impossible series, scaring the bejesus out of both audience members and the studio’s insurance agents, wondering just how far their uber-committed star will go in the name of movie star authenticity. All of which leads us to Fall, a low-budget thriller courtesy of Lionsgate that finds two C-list actresses thrown in front of some godawful green screen pretending to hang from a 2,000-foot television tower, thus raising the question: why settle for ground chuck when the filet mignon is so plentiful? In fairness, there’s something to be said for old school, B-movie thrills, the type where the visible seams and stitchery actually add to the experience, and an infectious spirit keeps any sort of artsy pretensions at bay. Unfortunately, save for an absolutely bonkers final ten minutes, director/co-writer Scott Mann shows little to no interest in actually entertaining audience members with Fall, delivering one half-assed set-piece after another, the whole thing feeling like a forced homework assignment.
As Fall opens, newlyweds and adrenaline junkies Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Dan (Mason Gooding) — along with their best friend, Hunter (Virginia Gardner) — are attempting a daring rock climb when a freak accident occurs, resulting in Dan’s death. Heartbroken and inconsolable, Becky retreats from life and into a bottle of Stella Rosa, vowing never to climb again. Cut ahead to one of the most ridiculous timestamps ever featured in a motion picture — 51 weeks later — and Becky is ready to end her life, with only a surprise call from Hunter bringing her back from the edge. A successful Vlogger with a wildly popular YouTube page, Hunter travels the globe engaging in one dangerous stunt after the next, inspired by the death of Dan, who taught her to live life to its fullest, because you never know when it’s going to end. You see, Hunter embraces life, while Becky wants to end hers, a thematically rich study in contrasts if ever there was one. Hunter ultimately convinces Becky to join her on a climb up B67, a long-abandoned television tower outside of L.A. that stands at just over 2,000 feet. Naturally, things take a disastrous turn once they reach the top, and the ladder on which they ascended is now scattered in pieces on the ground. With only fifty feet of rope between them and nothing stable to aid a rappel down, the two find themselves trapped on a four-foot piece of metal nearly half-a-mile in the air. Will they be able to survive such a seemingly hopeless ordeal?
While the premise of Fall is certainly more solid than the rust-bucket television tower on which our protagonists find themselves, Mann and co-writer Jonathan Frank mainly use the situation for Becky and Hunter to perform a post-mortem on their friendship, uncovering all sorts of melodramatic bullshit that only serves to pad an already too-long 107-minute runtime. Never once do the filmmakers try to burrow into the mindset of their characters, the myriad emotions that would arise out of such a treacherous situation, trapped as they are on a metal plate in the desert, with the sun beating down and vultures circling overhead. Every once in awhile they are given a specific task — fetch a backpack filled with water just out of reach or fly a drone that desperately needs to be charged — but there is oddly no sense of urgency or peril conjured. Becky and Hunter seem more mildly annoyed than actually fearful for their lives, and while it would be easy to fault the rather green actresses, the script gives them absolutely nothing to work with, save for the occasional thoughtful stare into the distance. It doesn’t help that the pair are so high up in the air that it renders shots with the ground in view virtually impossible, neutering the entire visual enterprise in the process. When such imagery does occur, the background is rendered as nothing but a smear of browns and grays, which is quite realistic but also remarkably boring. The aforementioned unsightly green screen certainly doesn’t help matters, nor does the fact that there are no cutaways to stunt people actually climbing and traversing such heights because, A) the budget would never allow it and B) no municipality would ever permit climbers on such a structure, regardless of experience. As is, the film exists simply as a steady stream of medium shots of the actors, when what is desperately needed is a sense of space and perspective. Only in the final stretch does the movie truly come alive, embracing a campiness that appears out of nowhere but is wholly welcome after the mind-numbing solemnity that came before it (although the twist that occurs before this section — yes, somehow this film has a twist — is both obvious and profoundly derivative). But despite this last-minute goosing, it’s fair to guess that few viewers indeed will be falling for Fall.