There aren’t many films with a simpler premise than the new thriller Fall: Two young women climb to the top of an abandoned TV antenna in the desert and get stuck on the top, with no way down. The TV antenna in question is real, it’s the 2,000-ft “B67” TV Tower in the California desert and it’s still one of the tallest structures in the United States. It’s also long-since abandoned and, as is obvious as this white-kuckle thriller proceeds, is also falling apart. To put it in perspective, the Eiffel Tower is 986-feet tall, so this is more than twice that height.
The film opens with a more traditional rock climbing adventure with Becky (Grace Currey), her pal Hunter (Virginia Gardner), and Becky’s new husband Dan (Mason Gooding). Things go awry and a year later, Becky is depressed and seeking escape from the pain of Dan’s unexpected death at the bottom of a bottle. She’s in a pretty horrible way, and her father James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) keeps hovering around, trying to help, but in a clumsy, emotionally insensitive way. He’s not helping. When Hunter shows up on her doorstep, however, it might just be what Becky needs to snap out of her funk.
Hunter has become a YouTube streaming sensation with her endless adrenaline adventures and she’s got a great new idea: The two of them climb to the top of B67, an insanely tall TV transmission tower in the middle of the California desert. It’s abandoned, so it’s truly a test of their skills, strength, and perseverance. Becky’s not sure, and keeps having to battle her fears as the climb continues, even though the climb up is easy with a ladder welded to the inside of the tower’s lattice structure.
When they get to the top, it’s insanely tall, making it a great accomplishment, but when things start to go awry, they quickly realize that they’ve got a real problem: They can’t climb back down. Sure, they have rope and climbing gear, but did they bring 2000′ of rope? Of course not. As they sit on the tower, the two women talk about their intertwined lives, leading to some uncomfortable revelations too. A bit of rather predictable hand-wringing drama, but this film isn’t really about their relationship, it’s all about Becky, her pain over the loss of Dan, and her challenge to overcome and figure out how to get back onto the ground, both literally and metaphorically.
Fall borrows inspiration from a lot of great climbing movies, notably Free Solo, Vertical Limit, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. It’s a simple man vs. nature theme and doesn’t take very long to create the great dilemma: Can the women climb back down when the tower’s falling apart? If you’re afraid of heights, you’ll be fainting with some of the long shots in this film, and it’s appreciated that some of the more realistic elements – like the inevitable sway at the top of the tower, especially when it’s windy – were omitted in the interest of narrative simplicity.
Having said all of this, there are some definite shortcomings with Fall, the greatest of which is the and-then-this-terrible-thing-happened trope. The latter half of the film is like a checklist of what can go wrong, to the point where there are a couple of scenes that are more comical than anything that adds to the tension. You’ll chuckle and mutter “of course that’s what happened” at least once or twice. The performances of the two leads, Currey and Gardner, are really good, but while Jeffrey Dean Morgan made a name for himself with his excellent performances in Watchmen and The Walking Dead he really phones in his performance here, to the point where director Scott Mann might have asked for a refund from Morgan’s agent. More than unimpressive, it deflates a couple of what should be high-tension, emotional scenes in the film.
Still, Fall doesn’t pretend to be more than it is, a thriller about two women who climb to the top of a crazy tall tower, and get stuck, having to rely on their ingenuity to either get back down or get attention so they can be rescued. The end wraps up so quickly you’ll be a bit baffled, but if you like to experience a bit of gratuitous vertigo, this is a solid film to check out. And for maximum effect, see it in the theater on the biggest screen you can find.