Two women climb a 600-metre abandoned television tower, only to get stuck at the top with no way of getting back down. There is something nice about these human-versus-nature stories, which by their very construction use a minimum of locations, stories, and characters. Done well and they can be unbearable tense and intimate thrillers, and of course when smartly produced they can also be remarkably cheap: a win for cost-conscious, profit-motivated film studios. Fall, which is just the latest in a long line of similar films, finds a comfortable niche in the middle of the pack. It does not give the audience anything particularly innovative, but what it does give is rock-solid populist entertainment.
Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) has become an alcoholic shut-in since the climbing death of her husband Dan. In an attempt to break her out of her mourning, best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) convinces Becky to try climbing once again – and scatter Dan’s ashes from the top of the decommissioned B-67 TV tower, located in the middle of the desert. That their ascent will go horribly, life-threateningly wrong is a foregone conclusion – it is, after all, the premise of the entire film – but the early scenes do a reasonable and patient job in establishing the characters, the conflicts, and some key foreshadowing of the story ahead. It isn’t Shakespeare – Currey is saddled with some appalling dialogue, and great pains are taken to dubiously justify showing Gardner’s cleavage – but it does its job well enough for this kind of B-grade genre piece. Jeffrey Dean Morgan of The Walking Dead fame also shows up as Becky’s despairing father, but it’s a small enough part to practically be a cameo.
Things improve notably once the ladder up the tower has collapsed and the women are stranded 600 metres in the air with no phone reception, shelter, food or water. An episodic series of challenges, escape attempts, and growing personal conflicts keep things at a high pressure level and satisfying pace. It is well-shot with a combination of on-location and blue-screen techniques that has a mostly realistic tone, and more than a few moments of acute acrophobia. Generally speaking, if the audience has a question of ‘why don’t they try X’, or ‘why haven’t they considered Y’, Fall will get around to answering it. It is impressive that writer/director Scott Mann (with co-writer Jonathan Frank) has developed as many story opportunities and incidents as he has. The film runs for a comparatively brisk 107 minutes without ever lagging or trying the audience’s patience.
It is also worth noting Fall‘s significance in Hollywood history. Produced independently, the film was picked up by Lionsgate Films and given a full theatrical release. To maximise its commercial chances, more than 30 utterances of the word ‘fuck’ were exchanged for less adult words. This was achieved not only with redubbing dialogue but using CGI to ‘deepfake’ the actors’ mouths and actually make it look like they were saying the less offensive words all along. It is a fascinating tool, and Mann is one of the people running the company that invented it. They recently announced they were going to use the technology to redub foreign language films into English – and that has the potential to be particularly contentious going forth. Language dubbing is nothing new of course, but using technology to literally change actors’ performances? It is a fascinating – and I suspect polarising – concept.
Fall is a solid, well-played, and broadly effective thriller. While perhaps overly familiar in its genre tropes, it still succeeds with strong visuals, driven characters, and an urgent pace. If you’re a fan of this genre, you will likely find yourself a fan of this example.