Single-location movies are awesome, in terms of budget and testing how much drama, tension, fear, and even action you can draw out of the premise and the actors. Some of the examples that come to mind are “The Invitation,” “The Lighthouse,” “Train to Busan,” “12 Angry Men”, “Rear Window,” “Rope,” “[REC],” “The Raid: Redemption,” “Dredd,” “Speed” and “Die Hard.” But for the sake of this review, we must think smaller and tighter. The location can’t be expansive, and it can’t have too many cast members. So, you have “1408”, “Buried”, “Locke”, “Trapped”, “The Shallows”, “Gerald’s Game”, “Frozen”, “Open Water”, “Phone Booth”, and “Oxygen“. Now, if any of these movies made you feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable, then you must truly prepare yourself for “Fall” as it takes elements from them and literally heightens them to the next level. The next level being 2000ft off the ground.
Directed and co-written by Scott Mann, along with co-writer Jonathan Frank, “Fall” opens with Becky (Grace Caroline Currey), Becky’s boyfriend Dan (Mason Gooding), and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) climbing up a very steep mountain. While trying to install a climbing cam into a crevice, Dan is startled by a bird sitting in there, and he falls quite a distance. But due to his penchant for using climbing ropes (instead of Hunter’s style of free climbing), he doesn’t drop to his death instantly. That happens a little later when one of the climbing cams slips out. The narrative jumps forward in time by 51 weeks (almost one year), and we see that Becky is still distraught and drinking herself to death. Her dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) tries to help her, but she shoves him aside. When she’s about to die by suicide, Hunter arrives at her doorstep with the offer to climb a 2000-foot-long, abandoned radio tower to get over Dan’s death.
The aspects that “Fall” hinges on are how much the audience is afraid of heights; how much fear of heights can be instilled in the audience’s heart throughout the course of the film; and vertigo. I screamed out loud a total of four times during the climbing sequence alone because of how well Scott Mann, cinematographer MacGregor, editor Robert Hall, production designer Scott Daniel, and supervising sound designer David Barber managed to capture the ricketiness of those stairs. In fact, once Becky and Hunter reach one of the, let’s say, resting spots, you’ll find yourself heaving a sigh of relief, only to realize that there’s more climbing to be done. Actually, this pattern of giving the characters (and the audience) some respite and jolting them with yet another panic-inducing factor is repeated very religiously. And you get so used to it that as soon as the characters get a breather, your body and mind start to tense up since you know that a big twist is on its way.
From a technical and storytelling aspect, “Fall” is almost flawless (“almost” being the operative word here) as Mann extracts the most out of this limiting plot. As far as my novice eyes can observe, all the scenes where Becky and Hunter do some of the most outrageous things are rooted in reality. Even though the camera angles and movements are very standard, Mann understands that small reminders of how high they are by slowly revealing the horizon are impactful as hell. So, the immersion isn’t broken. The unraveling of the two characters helps a lot as well, which, BTW, happens in distinctly different ways. As mentioned before, Becky is brought into this mission right when she’s about to end her life. But after facing death again, her will to live and love starts to return. Hunter, on the other hand, likes to perform for her viewers on social media and is a show-off. However, up there, there’s no one to see her, thereby forcing her to show her real character.
That said, there are a few problems. Firstly, when the background (which is literally the ground on which the tower is standing) is out of focus, it’s not distracting. But, as VFX artists say, when you put in high-definition background elements and then put them out of focus, it’ll seem that a detailed background is out of focus. However, when you put low-quality background elements and then put them out of focus, it’s going to look like a low-quality background that happens to be out of focus. So, that’s the issue that “Fall” runs into quite a few times. Secondly, the sexualization of Hunter is irksome. She’s critic-proof as her character is written to be someone who uses her sexual appeal to garner views. But there’s a difference between a woman using her femininity for clicks and men writing a female character who does the same. The latter is happening here. Thirdly, the final message is antithetical to everything that happens in the movie. And lastly, the twist about Dan is too cliched and predictable.
As for the acting, there aren’t any complaints here. Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner absolutely act their hearts out in “Fall.” In the first scene itself, you get an idea of who Becky and Hunter are, which is then beautifully expanded upon by the actresses. Despite being an adrenaline junkie, Grace embodies a person who always needs a little push to come out of her shell. She is capable of doing extraordinary things, but she likes to play on the backfoot so that she can assess the situation better. Virginia is louder, brasher, and over-the-top. She wants to act first and question the soup she’s in later. So, even though some of her thoughts and actions are nonsensical, they are synonymous with her character’s design. And Virginia does a great job of portraying this borderline problematic personality. Additionally, these roles are obviously physically taxing. The actresses and their stunt doubles (especially their stunt doubles!) deserve a huge round of applause for putting in the effort that’s necessary to look so consistently convincing.
In conclusion, please watch “Fall” with a barf bag in case you are afraid of heights. But please do watch it. This is an endorsement of the movie, BTW, and not a warning sign for you to never give it a try. Well, maybe it is a warning sign, but a light, cautionary warning and not the big, flashy kind that’s designed to scare you. It’s a unique take on one-location films that’s executed with passion and grit (and it has a terrifying twist in the third act that’ll blow your socks off). If you haven’t seen a one-location movie before, though, this is a good place to start your journey into this sub-genre. Also, do check out the rest of Scott Mann’s filmography. He is quite an under-appreciated director, and the way he is pumping steroids into well-established cinematic concepts with every film is interesting. Last but not least, watch “Fall” for Grace and Virginia’s committed performances.