‘Fall’ Reaches Dizzying Suspense Atop a Giant TV Tower 

You can forgive the more comical aspects of “Fall” simply because it does an effective job at evoking the dizzying heights of its premise. Some thrillers just work that way, by coming up with a concocting a clear enough idea that doesn’t need too much decoration. Director Scott Mann understands that altitudes can be scary, even more so when you’re trapped. This movie is like the living nightmare of anyone with acrophobia in how Mann uses visual effects to make you believe its main characters are atop a giant tower, which looks more like some kind of massive steel needle. This is also a testament to the efficiency of a crafty low-budget entertainment. “Fall” probably cost what amounts to the catering bill on a Christopher Nolan movie, but it’s just as memorable.

The two young women who decide to scale into doom are Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner), two best buddies and expert climbers. Becky is going through depression after her husband (Mason Gooding) died while the two were making their way up a mountain. Hunter, a daredevil influencer with 60,000 followers, tries to shake Becky out of her stupor by taking her on a trip into the California desert with the aim of climbing the abandoned B67 TV communication tower. We are cheerfully told that it’s about 2,000 feet in height and the fourth tallest structure in the United States. Becky remains traumatized by her recent loss, but Hunter suggests the top of B67 is the best spot to finally let go of the husband’s ashes. Up they go, at first making their way to the top with ease since the tower has a ladder running up its side. But once they’ve appeared to conquer the structure, an accident causes an essential part of the ladder to break away, leaving the two women stranded up on the tower’s crest.

Lest you think this movie’s locale is entirely a fantasy, it’s actually inspired by the KXTV/KOVR Tower, also known as the Sacramento Joint Venture Tower which is the tallest structure in California and the seventh tallest structure to have ever existed. It’s ingenious how “Fall” imagines the perils of being trapped at the top of such a place. The thrills make up for the opening scenes are pure B-movie cheese, including hilarious knocks at influencers with Hunter explaining how she’s wearing a pushup bra for “tits for clicks.” Let’s also ignore how much of a bad friend she is by forcing the obviously traumatized Becky to do something dangerous she’s clearly not in the proper mental state for. But good survivalist thrillers are precisely about choices and the tragedy of looking back at how easily your plight could have been avoided. 

In a sense the real movie begins once Becky and Hunter make their way up B67. Shot in IMAX in the Mojave desert, “Fall” might just inspire some audience members to keep turning away when Mann gives a convincing perception of altitude. Our minds know we are watching the illusion of cinema, yet whatever combination of practical effects and CGI was used will make the eye believe that yes, these two women are 2,000 feet above ground. Shots pan and swoop overhead, with the surface appearing as it would from outside an airplane window. One of the women nearly slips and another one hangs for fun from the edge for a selfie. If a shoe falls it simply disappears like a speck on its way down. A few extra threats are thrown their way that are somewhat unnecessary like an evil vulture that flies in to cause havoc, even in Becky’s dreams.

The screenplay by Mann and Jonathan Frank functions like a good short story. Wider plot threads are good enough to not overtake the narrative, like Becky’s rocky relationship with her father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). More engaging are matters of immediate survival, like having to find a way to reach a backpack, or preserving the battery power of their drone to see if it can be used to seek help. Someone might appear down below in an RV, but can they even hear you if you scream from that height? And there are those other pestering issues like the boiling hot sun and the need for food and water. There are a few predictable avenues when it comes to the relationship between both girls, because friends in cinema always keep secrets. We also wonder how it is that Becky’s phone conserves battery power for so long. It doesn’t matter anyway, since up there neither one has a signal. 

Survivalist thrillers have a primal appeal because they are about challenges all too plausible. Getting lost in the woods, marooned at sea or abandoned in unfamiliar territory could affect anyone. Most of us will never attempt to climb something like B67, but if someone does there are inherent dangers, even if their lives don’t feature the melodrama of the characters in this movie. We read every day in the news about miners trapped underground or someone surviving days and nights of hunger after getting lost in the wilderness. “Fall” uses crafty effects to put all those tensions and fears into one convincing location with two actors making us believe they are suffering through terror, pain and a potentially gangrenous wound. There is a classic charm to an entertainment like this, since it quickens the pulse without resorting to the franchise ingredients we’re fed every week now. It knows what’s unnerving about its environment and understands that’s effective enough. But please, do not go see this movie if you have vertigo. 

Fall” releases Aug. 12 in theaters nationwide.