Fall (United States, 2022)

August 11, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Fall Poster

Fall, from director Scott Mann, makes for a great trailer. The camera soars up the length of a 2000-foot high decommissioned television antenna and, when it arrives at the top, we’re treated to the sight of someone dangling in mid-air. Had the movie been a short, with perhaps a running length of 30-45 minutes (or thereabouts), it might have been able to capture and expand upon the throat-constricting feeling generated by the trailer. However, at 107 minutes, the padding is obvious. Although acrophobes will never be comfortable with anything that happens that high above the earth, most viewers will only feel the surge of tension when the director tells us to, primarily as a result of cues offered by the camera and music.

To be fair, Mann gets the pulse pounding on several instances. Most of these moments are predictable but that doesn’t diminish their effectiveness. The problem is that, for an hour of the film, it’s essentially two people trapped on a small platform more than a third of a mile into the sky. That opens things up for a lot of banal dialogue and a not-all-that-interesting “twist” that attempts with minimal success to build layers onto the main characters’ best-friend relationship. One suspects that Mann knows viewers aren’t overly interested in this stuff but he’s trapped by the commercial necessity of getting the running length over the 90-minute mark. (Just as he had to resort to deep fake technology to replace numerous instances of the f-word to meet Lionsgate’s PG-13 mandate).

The opening sequence economically establishes the two main characters – climbers Becky (Grace Fulton) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) – by depicting the situation that results in the former turning her back on the sport that has hitherto defined her life. Becky’s husband, fellow daredevil Dan (Mason Gooding), dies when his improperly anchored rope is unable to save him during a fall. 51 weeks later, Becky has retreated into a shell and even the best efforts of her father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) fail to coax her to emerge. That’s when Hunter, who was with the couple on the fateful day, re-enters Becky’s life with a proposal: she needs someone to accompany her on her latest made-for-social media adventure (where she goes by the moniker of “Danger D”): climbing to the top of one of the world’s tallest man-made structures and shooting video from there using hand-held cameras and drones.

Fall doesn’t have any conventional villains, which is a good thing. The closest it comes are a couple of car thieves and a nasty buzzard who never saw Conan the Barbarian (think the Tree of Woe). However, the manufactured drama between the friends feels like it was cherry-picked out of a cheesy YA novel. The intrepid duo faces various difficulties: no cell signal, a decrepit ladder that has come apart and collapsed following the ascent, physical injuries, dehydration, and only a single flare that might (or might not) work. Poor planning, thy name is Hunter.

The lead actors, Grace Fulton and Virginia Gardner, do enough to make the characters credible without taking them to the next level. Both have enjoyed nice careers thus far with a smattering of big screen and small screen roles and Fall isn’t likely to land them on the A-list. (Fulton has found a path through the Shazam! movies; playing one of Michael’s victims in the 2018 Halloween didn’t do the same for Gardner.) They function as pawns with everything human – their relationship, their interactions, their backgrounds – being subordinate to the high-octane thriller elements.

Like a horror movie, Fall is constructed using familiar tropes. Like horror movie protagonists, Becky and Hunter do some incredibly stupid things that are on par with venturing into a dark basement to check the fuse box. Structurally, there are a lot of similarities between Fall and a typical slasher film, including the chief question of whether the main character(s) will survive. The formula is straightforward: build tension to a high level, release it quickly and sharply, rest for a moment, then repeat.

It all gets back to the question of whether there’s enough in the premise to build a full-length feature on the travails of two characters. As B-movies go, this one is good enough to hold the attention and wring out the tension without doing anything more ambitious. Analogs might include the narratively dissimilar but fundamentally comparable The Shallows and Crawl. Forgettable? Yes. But good enough to provide a couple hours’ diversion.

Fall (United States, 2022)

Director: Scott Mann
Cast: Grace Fulton
Home Release Date: 2022-10-18
Screenplay: Scott Mann, Jonathan Frank
Cinematography: MacGregor
Music: Tim Despic
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Home Release Date: 2022-10-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Intense Peril)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1