Fall 2022

Recently, the “adventure survival” thriller has seen a sizeable spike in popularity. Gone are the nastiness, the unbearable tension, the relentless bad luck and shaking-in-their-boots protagonists of survival classics like 127 Hours, The Shallows, A Lonely Place to Die or Black Water. Films like Shark Bait, The Reef: Stalked, and Horizon Line feature level-headed characters with a different mindset, able to see their predicaments as trials to overcome. Whether they’re dangling from the side of an airplane like they’re auditioning for Uncharted, trying out increasingly bold ideas, or just sitting there talking for hours on end with escape on their mind, the emphasis of the adventure/survival hybrid is to make viewers part of the experience – not necessarily have them fearing for the protagonists’ lives every two seconds.Less shocks, a lot less screaming, more crazy stunts and character development.

The latest to apparently follow this trend is Scott Man’s Fall, featuring two climbers stuck on a 2000-foot radio tower,  a movie that maintains a low-key tension for most of its running time, while still some throwing some nasty surprises at both protagonists and viewer. Fall delivers a shocking twist and a home-run ending which allow it to stand out from this year’s wide array of summer-thriller diversions, but its real achievement is making you care about its central duo.

From the producers of 47 Meters Down (a major adventure-survival trendsetter of the past decade), Fall follows Becky (Grace Caroline Currey, who played Mary Marvel in the recent Shazam!) and Hunter (Runaways‘ breakout star Virginia Gardner), two adrenaline addicts mourning the loss of  Becky’s partner Dan, who fell to his death in a horrible climbing accident. Becky has isolated herself from the world ever since, shutting Hunter, as well as dad James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) out – that is, until Hunter returns with a wide grin and a daring proposal: that they both climb an abandoned radio tower, for old times’ sake, as well as to renew their severed bond.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you really should” is the motto and entire raison d’etre for most survival thrillers, and Fall runs with it all the way to the finish line. The two women are extremely different in how they deal with their grief. Becky resents her former courage, as well as her dad’s hints that Dan wasn’t really the faithful man she thought he was. Hunter, an urban explorer and sports-and-thrills influencer (well deserving of her own spin-off) drowns her dark thoughts in wild solo adventures, with bigger and bigger stakes for her fans to enjoy. But Hunter misses Becky, and Becky still craves having her more confident BFF around, so she begrudgingly accepts the challenge after hearing that a jolt of adrenaline just might be what the doctor ordered to ease the sorrow.

Fall‘s setup part is highly rewarding, setting the tone – a mix of regretful daze and unbridled summer excitement – by zip-lining from a horrific fall to somber nightly exteriors, a rousing bedside pep-talk, a sun-drenched car ride and a diner, where the two protagonists prepare and fawn over every detail of their upcoming adventure. To be fair, the setup of an “adventure gone wrong” thriller is the one aspect few movies can get wrong, especially if you’re a forgiving lover of genre films. For a movie that won’t amount to much, the setup phase can still be the redeeming aspect, the one thing you can look back on with some level of fondness. For a pure survival thriller that does its job right, it serves as a snapshot of how fast a character’s entire personality can change in the face of extreme danger – in some instances even ending up a fictional memorial stone of sorts, after the protagonist has met their untimely end.

Fall‘s opening twenty minutes are superb because they illustrate instead of merely telling, with the leads well-written enough that every detail, every gesture and reaction crafts an impressive background story. From Hunter’s willingness to garner clicks and her carrying the right equipment for the job – including a drone for capturing Insta-bragging poses – to Becky’s rusty climbing reflexes, which nonetheless kick back in exactly when required. From the telling, but studied politeness of a diner waitress to the rotting carcass of a hound – the first real bad omen, hilariously ignored and forgotten – the movie’s tone is all about duality and opposites. With both actors having played superheroes before (and Currey having a background in dance), the climb itself has an added physicality and especially excitement factor to it that movies like The Ledge sorely lacked. Even as bolts fall off and rusty metal creaks dangerously under the pressure of their boots, these women have what it takes in order to survive, and they soldier on.

What happens after the climb is a new and unforeseen situation, but they react to it by testing out solutions and plans instead of falling into despair. Think of Prey‘s Naru learning from her errors and her environment, imagine a vertical version of it where there are Predators both high and low and it starts resembling what Scott Mann tries to do here. Mann, who previously delivered a highly entertaining variation of Sudden Death with the Dave Bautista-starring Final Score (almost referenced by name in Fall), makes a more cerebral thriller this time around, recalling some of the fears expertly conjured by M. Night Shyamalan’s best works – the eternal suspicion of others, the horror of air itself, the loving hand of a friend reaching out in the dark.

The movie is carefully designed to offer multiple interpretations: it can be read as a tale of trying to escape the patriarchy (which includes Dan, James, and probably a lot of Hunter’s fans as well) or a story about two spoiled women who gain an eagle-eyed view of people who are much, much worse off than they are. These people are both unwilling and unable to help, the downtrodden who literally can’t look up in life for fearing of life throwing them another curveball. At a closer look, Fall can safely join Bodies, Bodies, Bodies as a less skewering, but nonetheless sobering look at technology-enabled validation, entitlement, “shallowness” and image culture conflicting with the image of the outsider, the “Other”.

At one point, Hunter specifically replies to Becky’s “why do you do it?” question with a candid “honestly, because I can”. They repeatedly try to use expensive gear – even the worst of all evils, the drone, the major enemy in the recent Night Raiders and Empty Metal, the one element you know this movie, in particular, won’t let them get away with using – to their aid. They constantly fail, often because they don’t realize just how insulated their life had been so far – and no, it’s not the 2000 feet distance, although the movie works as a metaphor for success as well. While you clearly don’t want to be “at the bottom”, where people lie, cheat and steal in order to survive – or just to stick it to the rich – it’s not that great at the top either: there’s fierce competition, vultures waiting to feast on your wounds who don’t care that the blood they’re circling is a result of backstabbing. 

However, this reviewer has a fondness for influencers being portrayed in a humanizing, (somewhat) positive manner, by movies which recognize that not all of them are fame-hungry sociopaths who would sell their whole families for a slice of (really expensive) cheese. Some are just hard-working individuals who have found success – which also comes with immense pressure and difficult moral choices. There is still a lot of work to be done by character-driven movies like Sweat, or even affectionate “spiritual” parodies like The Florist and Clairevoyant to offset a decade comprised of Like Me, Deadcon, Ingrid Goes West, Superhost and just about every movie containing the word “follow” in their title.

Fall can be placed in the former category: even if you can read Hunter’s behavior as shallow – especially after the worst element of the film, a shoehorned cheating subplot which was predictable from the movie’s first frame, kicks in – she’s able to unlearn it, and function as a real friend and moral support for Becky, not the fierce competitor she initially appeared to be. She makes heroic sacrifices, her feelings are genuine and she even saves Becky’s life a couple of times, like a sister would. We really need more well-written, complex characters like Hunter, and Gardner pulls off a brave performance, with aspects of her spellbinding turn from A.T. White’s sci-fi Starfish, as well as her Karolina Dean balancing each other out. 

In short, these casting directors, cinematographer MacGregor (who also worked on another must-see 2019 sci-fi, Vivarium) and the writers – Mann and Jonathan Frank – know what they’re doing. Fall works so well as a character-driven “thriller of opposites” that it’s easy to forgive some of its negatives, and even consider them false leads: the shoehorned drama aspect, the apparent unwillingness of the writers to provide any shlock, the massive plot twist which feels straight-off lifted from the Shailene Woodley-starring Adrift. Once it leaves the adventure aspects behind and starts its cruel engines, Fall is as unforgiving a survival thriller as you can imagine, doubling as that rarest thing: a big studio horror movie that makes you think hard, while also delivering on the promise of sustained tension (if not, for the majority of the film at least, any real danger).

We’re going to stand in line for Mann and Frank’s next outing, a movie about “the largest tsunami in recorded history”, that’s for sure.


Fall is Part of The FrightFest 2022 Lineup and Will Release Exclusively in Cinemas Nationwide on September 2nd

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