Fall (2022)

AUGUST 14, 2022


I do not really have a fear of heights; I've been on top of the Empire State Building (well, the platform part of it, not the *actual* top) and didn't feel any different than I did on the ground. However, I DO have a weird fear of ladders, one that even extends to video games - I'm fine with climbing them, but when it comes to getting back on them to climb down I freak out. So while the primary "scary" part of Fall didn't really get my pulse racing, the reason they're stuck made up for it - their ladder broke apart when trying to climb back down! My apparent worst fear!

For those who haven't seen the trailer or heard the premise (likely, since Lionsgate barely advertised this thing), the movie is about two 20somethings who climb a decommissioned 2,000 foot electrical tower in the middle of the desert for their own personal reasons. Hunter is doing it for her Youtube channel, Becky is planning to spread the ashes of her husband who died a year earlier on a mountain climb (the three loved doing these sort of extreme adventures). They get to the top OK and achieve their personal goals, but are then stuck at the top due to the aforementioned accident. They only have fifty feet of rope, so rappelling down isn't an option, and the smooth pole gives them nothing to use as footholds or whatever. And in a rare novel use of the obligatory "no cell" plot point, they actually had a signal at the bottom (despite being in the middle of nowhere) but now are merely too high up for it to work.

So it's one of those movies like Frozen (Anchor Bay, not Disney) or 247°F where you in the audience is constantly thinking "Why don't they do this?" and then, more often than not, the screenwriters have it covered by showing exactly how that won't work. But there's a sort of dark humor to these experiments you know will keep failing until the movie hits the 90 (or so) minute mark; for example, when Becky (Grace Caroline Currey, who was one of the girls in Annabelle: Creation) tries to charge their drone by using an outlet at the very top of the tower (about 30 feet above their tiny platform), she isn't having too much trouble hanging on and keeping the thing connected - but she IS constantly being menaced by a vulture who is attracted to the nasty cut she suffered earlier. And when they realize that a well packed phone can send a message from the ground, they use up their socks and a shoe to give it a little "box", only for it to be not be enough. But we don't see that at the time, they just show us the phone in pieces later, as if to say "Oh yeah by the way that was a waste of their socks."

Unfortunately, it's also a modern genre movie about two women, so before they even get to the tower we get hints that Hunter (played by Halloween '18's Virginia Gardner) has slept with Becky's husband (Scream 5's Mason Gooding - so much genre sequel cred here!). To be fair, it's not just throwaway "drama" as it often is - the affair left Hunter feeling even worse about it when the husband died, unable to be supportive to her best friend... but it's still the 4000th example of this plot point in the past 15 years or so. The Descent did it perfectly, and I understand why any survival horror movie would want to try to reach that movie's heights, but this one steals it wholesale (the guy dies, the friends drift apart, then reunite due to their shared love of dangerous adventure), complete with the "other woman" having something with the man's favorite saying, tipping off our heroine.


The problem with using this device in a studio release (one that was very obviously edited from an R to a PG-13 for commercial prospects; enjoy lots of "freaking") is that we now know Hunter will die, because there's still a puritan "Hays Code" kind of rule in play for like 95% of the movies you see in theaters. Had the two of them just been normal best friends without any drama, there would be more suspense to the proceedings, as while Becky's survival was basically a given, Hunter was a wild card until we discovered this guilty secret. Then it just became a matter of when, and that in itself wouldn't be so bad if (reminder, SPOILERS!) the movie decides to steal once again by ripping off 47 Meters Down (so, even if you read *this* paragraph, skip the *next* one if you haven't seen that one either!).

In that movie, the nitrogen narcosis led to one character hallucinating a happier ending for her and her sister, only for her brain to rewire itself properly and realize that the sister got eaten by a shark several movie minutes earlier. They do the same thing here (though it's just a regular ol' mental break); at a certain point Becky has a suggestion that requires Hunter's other shoe and Hunter says it's not going to work because the shoe is "down there." Becky looks down and sees Hunter's corpse, and she/we realize that an earlier fall - which she supposedly survived by grabbing their rope at the last second - was actually fatal, and Hunter's last 20-25 minutes of screentime has been imaginary. I mean, nearly every genre movie has some kind of "borrowing" in play, but it's rare to see a film swipe major plot points so specifically from others in the same "women are stuck!" sub-genre (one from the same studio no less). The goal of any movie like this is to distinguish itself from others in the sub-genre so it stands out, and this one manages to have more of its own identity in its early scenes, only to start reminding us of other movies at a time we should be fully sucked into this particular situation. Even Tim Despic's score sounds like Descent's (composed by David Julyan) at times, as if they thought that going up really high instead of down into the earth would be enough for no one to notice the similarities.

But outside of that, it gets the job done. Seeing the plans seemingly work only to fail due to an unexpected last second development never stopped amusing me, both actresses were appealing and funny (affair aside, their sisterly bond is strong, and thus they're quick to tease each other as only besties can), and it's only on a very brief occasions that the illusion of their predicament was spoiled by some dodgy FX. The survival elements could have been handled better (they're up there for two days or so with one bottle of water and no food; and there's no shade whatsoever during the day/no protective clothing for the harsh night, but none of it seems to matter much), but director/co-writer Scott Mann manages to keep things visually engaging despite their limited space to move (and he thankfully only cuts to the ground/other characters when absolutely necessary, keeping the camera on them otherwise nonstop).

Plus it was nice to see one of these on the big screen for a change, as it's rare to get the chance unless there's a shark involved. Frozen's release was pretty tiny, and most of the others I've seen went straight to DVD/streaming, with only scattered festival appearances to give folks the opportunity to tense up together. Not that there was much of that with my particular crowd (I eventually moved my seat after the lady in front of me straight up just started watching TikTok videos), but I'm guessing it'll play even better with an audience that's sucked in instead of looking at their goddamn phones. I read that this WAS indeed going to be a streaming debut but some good test screenings had Lionsgate change their mind, so I'm glad taking a chance on theaters is still a thing that can happen (though the box office suggests it wasn't exactly a home run decision). Hopefully the eventual Blu-ray will have the R rated version so we're not stuck with the laughable "Let's get off this FREAKING tower" forever.

What say you?


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