Survival thrillers don’t have to reinvent the genre to be effective. As long as they keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, and maybe throw in a few heart palpitations here and there, they’ve done their job. Allow me to confirm that FALL does its job, and it does it well. Though it owes quite a bit to The Descent, FALL had me Googling new anxiety symptoms I’ve never experienced before. I was quite often on the verge of a panic attack, which is high praise (no pun intended) for a survival thriller. It’s not the most original film in the genre, but FALL’s killer premise and engaging performances will keep viewers’ hearts racing.

Becky (Grace Fulton) is drowning in despair. Her husband Dan (Mason Gooding) died in a rock climbing accident nearly a year ago, but she hasn’t been able to open the box containing his cremated remains or do much of anything besides drink to numb her pain. Her best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner), an extreme adventure influencer, visits her to propose a wild climbing expedition to jolt her back to life. Hunter wants to climb a decommissioned TV tower: a 2000-foot ladder in the middle of the desert that will serve as the ultimate climb. Becky agrees, but once they reach the summit, a combination of poor maintenance and Hunter’s recklessness leave them stranded at the top of the tower with no water, no cell signal, and no hope of getting safely to the ground.

Let’s get the comparisons out of the way early. FALL’s elevator pitch boils down to this: “What if we did The Descent, but instead of going underground, we went way up in the air?” The two films share the same premise: a grieving woman reunites with her adventure buddy to get her mind off her late husband, and the women get trapped due to a combination of foolhardiness and trespassing in unwelcoming locations. The films also share similar narrative and emotional beats; in fact, FALL’s most shocking moments will likely come as little surprise to fans of Neil Marshall’s 2005 masterpiece. But if you’re going to “borrow,” you should borrow from the best, and that’s exactly what FALL does. It isn’t as good as The Descent, but it’s an effective thriller in its own right.

Virginia Gardner (Left, “Hunter”) and Grace Caroline Curry (Right, “Becky”) in FALL

Directed by Scott Mann, who co-wrote with Jonathan Frank, FALL isn’t afraid to be cruel, either to its audience or its characters. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, not because of any inherent comedy in the script, but because of the disbelief viewers will feel as they watch fate and human nature deliver blow after blow to the trapped women. Dizzying shots of Becky and Hunter climbing the impossibly tall tower and peering down to see the ground below them are enough to send even the most mildly acrophobic viewer searching for a paper bag to breathe into. The film wisely uses a variety of shots to convey just how high up these women are. A wide shot as they reach the midway point is heartstopping; the tower is so tall that, even at a large distance, we can’t see its top or bottom, yet Becky and Hunter look like ants as they ascend the ladder one rusty rung at a time. Close-ups of screws precariously close to falling out underscore just how bad an idea this is, as we watch it play out in agonizing suspense sequences.

The quiet moments in FALL are sometimes just as chilling as the leaps, falls, and stumbles that leave viewers’ hearts in their throats. After the women have an argument atop the tower, the movie cuts to a lovely shot of them backlit by the sunrise; silhouetted by the cruel reminder of another day 2000 feet away from safety, they sit with their backs to each other and discuss their personal issues. Both Fulton and Gardner do a fine job of conveying their characters’ long and complicated history as well as the enormity of their situation. Their personalities aren’t as finely sketched as those in The Descent, but the viewer does care about what happens to these women, especially with Becky’s concerned father James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) adding a bit more dimension to their predicament. While some of the symbolism is a bit too heavy-handed — at one point, Becky uses her wedding ring in a climactic battle against a dying drone battery — it’s redeemed by the film’s outright viciousness, which nicely counterbalances FALL’s more predictable or melodramatic moments.

FALL isn’t a movie I can recommend in good conscience to people with a severe fear of heights, because its depiction of two women struggling to survive atop a sky-high tower is a white-knuckle endurance test. For those who don’t think they suffer from acrophobia, this film might change their minds. Still, it’s a thrilling survival story that lives up to its “The Descent, but really high” premise. It’s not original in the slightest, but it is effective, and it combines a delightful mean-spiritedness with enough heart to keep the viewer invested in the characters’ fates. FALL promises vertiginous, anxiety-inducing suspense, and it delivers on that promise.

FALL arrives only in theaters Friday August 12, 2022.

Jessica Scott
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