Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Scott Mann
Writers: Jonathan Frank, Scott Mann
Actors: Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jasper Cole, Darrell Dennis, Bamm Ericsen, Julia Pace Mitchell
By Caelyn O’Reilly
When I first saw the trailer for “Fall” I got so excited to see the latest entry in my favourite hyper-specific genre of film; thrillers about extremely competent women escaping confined scenarios with their wits.
“Panic Room”(2002), “10 Cloverfield Lane”(2016), “Don’t Breathe”(2016), “Crawl”(2019), “The Shallows”(2016), I could go on for hours about these movies and why they’re my favourite kind of film. (I could swear they were called “tight-spot thrillers” but I can barely find any instances of that phrase on the Internet so maybe I just dreamed it into being). There’s just some intrinsic pleasure about seeing women like me escaping these claustrophobic nightmare scenarios that scratches my lizard brain.
So I was HYPED for “Fall”, which combines this genre with a premise seemingly designed to give the audience a collective panic attack. Was it worth the excitement…?
This film is about a rise to astonishing heights before everything goes horribly wrong. Appropriately enough, its quality is structured to match. And so too, is this review.
The film opens strong with a brilliantly tense mountain-scaling sequence (bonus points for referencing the delightfully self-indulgent rock-climbing setpiece in “Mission: Impossible 2”(2000)) which does a great job of setting up the arc of protagonist, Becky, played by Grace Caroline Currey. Like many examples of this little genre, the need to escape the physical threat in “Fall” mirrors an emotional need to escape an often depressive or apathetic state of mind. A need to get out of a bad spot in their lives and move on. This is vital because – despite the claim from some of seeing movies like this solely for the spectacle – a simple well-done character arc goes a long way to making these movies feel complete.
But “Fall” knows it has a killer premise on its hands and does not waste much time in making the most of it. This is exemplified by the initial climb up the TV tower, lovingly photographed with frequent extreme close-ups on the rusting, unstable structure and the sound design emphasising every creak and thud. It’s glorious, wringing out every ounce of anxiety possible.
Unfortunately, once the characters reach the top, the film does run into a significant problem.
There are many shots in the film where the illusion of these characters dangling 2000 feet in the air shatters entirely when seen in such high fidelity. Even worse, these shots are largely the high-angle shots which would – if better done – be the film’s vertigo-inducing highlights. Despite director Scott Mann’s impressive commitment to shooting on-location (building short segments of the tower on a mountain, according to an interview with Radio Times) these shots could only realistically have been done with a green screen. The only alternative I can think of would be filming these dangerous stunts on-location and then manually removing the entire background in post-production. However, I don’t blame the film too much here. Bad use of chromakey has seemingly been a growing problem across the industry in recent years, often in much more expensive films than this (“Death on the Nile”(2022) anyone?). So this isn’t a movie-ruining issue.
Especially because the cinematography more than makes up for it. The true standouts are the more straight-on shots, where even a tiny portion of the tower takes up the entire vertical space of the frame. Panning my eyes up and down the cinema screen, taking in the scope, was a wonderful experience I haven’t felt since the flight sequences in 2019’s “The Aeronauts”.
These setpieces (the initial climb, the big moment where they get trapped, and the bag retrieval sequence) deliver completely what anyone who sees even a poster for this movie would hope to get out of it; nail-biting tension as the characters are put within inches of plummeting.
But sadly, it is after this that everything, well, falls apart: SPOILERS AHEAD
The last half-hour of this movie slams face-first into a brick wall.
After a trio of exhilarating action sequences, the film has the characters play around with a drone for over fifteen minutes of what should be the third act, and it goes absolutely nowhere. But at this point I was still hopeful because of something I’d read on Twitter.
I try to avoid reading reviews for films I haven’t seen on social media but seeing the occasional byline is inevitable. In the case of “Fall”, I had seen one saying the climax “stretched belief.” And that got me excited, because it immediately reminded me of criticisms of the endings of films in this genre like “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Shadow in the Cloud”(2020) which had wonderfully outlandish endings that were the perfect payoff to the hour-or-more of tension and disempowerment of the protagonist. These turned some people off, but I think those people are boring. So when I read that the climax of “Fall” stretched belief, I thought it’d end with Becky climbing down the tower as it collapsed in a lightning storm, or something to that effect.
Instead the film drops a twist that breaks the narrative irreparably.
Shiloh (Virginia Gardner) turns to Becky, revealing she’s been dead since the bag-retrieval scene, and that Becky has been imagining her presence since to encourage herself to keep going. There’s a lot wrong with this. First off, why even make this a twist? Less than twenty minutes of screen-time separates the death and the reveal, which is filled with the aforementioned drone tinkering and a single dream sequence which alludes to the twist. It would have actually been far more impactful if they had not made it a twist. Just getting it out of the way, leaving Becky isolated for the third act, would hit far harder than this try hard “Sixth Sense”(1999) wannabe rubbish.
Second, it undermines the emotional core of the film. Becky’s arc through the film has been about getting over the loss of her boyfriend in the opening and moving on with her life, rediscovering the things she loved, particularly climbing. This arc concludes during the interminable drone saga when she sheds her wedding ring to use as a survival tool. In a better version of “Fall” this would likely lead into an exciting setpiece where she shows how far she’s come by escaping the tower by herself, having regained her love for climbing and her ability to function independently of her safety nets.
Instead this twist tells us Becky’s codependence has worsened to the point where she’s hallucinating her dead friend just to keep herself going and becomes nearly catatonic when this comfort is taken away from her. This just adds in a second, much sillier version of the character arc we just witnessed, crammed into the last ten minutes.
The primary issue with “Fall” is the film is simply not interested in having the characters attempt to climb down. They never even consider it. All of their plans are about getting messages to the ground, primarily by just dropping stuff. These tactics are probably more “logical” in a very dry, mechanical sense, but they don’t make for exciting viewing and completely squanders the premise that the first hour of the movie had set up so perfectly.
I think one of the primary reasons this genre is so engaging is the thrill of seeing characters use their wits to escape seemingly hopeless situations, building clever traps and devices. As the characters in this movie put it, “Macgyver shit”. But by its end “Fall” is much more interested in being bleak and gross. The movie seems to set out a clear thesis statement early on, “If you’re scared of dying, don’t be afraid to live.” Basically, don’t let your fears stop you from making the most of life. Apparently this movie’s idea of not being scared to live isn’t taking exciting risks, but murdering and eating a vulture, and stuffing a shoe inside your friend’s corpse.
But even after all that, the film has one more insult left. Becky is rescued off-screen. We don’t even get to see whatever helicopter or rescuer gets her down. One last slap in the face before limping into the credits.
I cannot overstate how disparate the quality is between the first hour-ish of “Fall” and its final half-hour. I might honestly recommend watching this movie until Shiloh comes back up with the bag of supplies, then turning it off and imagining your own ending. The only way I can think to fairly rate this film is to give The Rise five stars, and The Fall zero, averaging it out to 2.5. Fair? That seems fair.