Fall first published by SciFiNow
The opening title credit for Scott Mann’s Fall is written vertically, with the initial ‘f’ at the top of the screen and the final ‘l’ at the bottom. Indeed, much of the film operates on the vertical plane. The prologue – also the primal scene of the heroine’s trauma – has Becky (Grace Caroline Currey), her husband Dan (Mason Gooding) and her best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) ascending a bare rock face when a bird flies out at Dan causing him to lose his grip and plummet to his death before Becky’s horrified eyes. 51 weeks later, Becky is still, as her estranged father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) puts it, “drowning in booze, grief, sorrow, whatever the hell this is.” Drunk and despairing at home, Becky has a pile of pills lined up to take her permanently over the edge, when Hunter suddenly reaches out to her.
Hunter is an adrenaline addict now making a living performing perilous stunts for her YouTube channel, and wants to shake her old friend out of her emotional paralysis by getting her to face her fears – which in this case means joining Hunter on an illegal scale of an old, abandoned TV tower in the desert, twice the height of Eiffel and in far worse condition. The idea is that when they reach the top, Hunter will get hits and likes with some spectacular selfies, Becky will scatter Dan’s ashes, anguish will have been surmounted and new perspectives, not to mention closure, will have been gained.
So this ascent is framed not just as a visceral adventure, but expressly as a therapeutic way of helping Becky rise above her despondency and climb out of her year-long rut back into the raw sensations of life. Yet Fall is also of course a survival thriller, reimagining at length the disaster with which it opened. For once they have reached the peak of this needle-like structure, its rusting ladders will collapse beneath them, leaving the two women without a way down (besides a very fast, impossibly terminal one), without water or communications, as birds once more circle for the kill. This will be a test of their friendship (and endurance) in extremis, as well as of Becky’s ability to overcome everything that most terrifies her, and to draw on inner strengths that have long been hidden from the elements outside.
Like Julian Gilbey’s A Lonely Place to Die (2011) which closed 2011’s August FrightFest, like Howard J. Ford’s The Ledge (2022) which played earlier this year at the Glasgow FrightFest, and also in different ways like Adam Green’s Frozen (2010) and Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift (2018), Fall is a literal cliffhanger, constantly placing its heroine on the edge and in extreme jeopardy. Here the simplest of micro missions – get some water, attract the attention of people below, recharge a battery, find food – prove nearly impossible to accomplish, despite the constant, calming reassurances of Becky’s more experienced, more reckless friend.
“I shot some of the best goddam footage of my life, and no way to upload it,” complains Harper who even has a “superbadass 4K drone” to capture their escapades from all the best angles. Mononymous cinematographer MacGregor (Vivarium, 2019) does something similar, shooting the women’s predicament from every which way, and constantly taking the viewer’s breath away with impossibly vertiginous perspectives. It is both hard to watch, and hard to look away, even as this footage, conveying an ordeal as much psychological and internal as real, interweaves dreams with actuality, engendering a vision whose occasional irrationality or even overt artifice comes carefully built into the bigger picture. For what we are witnessing is not just an unenviably horrific nightmare at 2000 feet, but also a pressured, cornered Becky forced to address her unresolved feelings about Dan, Hunter and even her own father, and to rediscover, surrounded on all sides by death, her love for life. It is a difficult, contradictory lesson that leaves Becky hanging in the balance, as she must learn (not) to let go.
strap: Scott Mann’s survival thriller is an acrophobic, anxiety-inducing ascent to the peak of a traumatised woman’s cathartic panic