For fans of single-setting survival horror such as Adam Green’s Frozen, new thriller Fall delivers similar terrifying chills and nail-biting suspense. Wisely, the script from Jonathan Frank and Scott Mann (who also directs) goes all in on the character development and emotional trauma before orchestrating its doomsday scenario. Two harrowing lead performances from Virginia Gardner (Marvel’s Runaways, 2018’s Halloween) and Grace Caroline Currey (Annabelle: Creation, Shazam) keep the film grounded even as the danger swirls around these two women like a hungry vulture. Aside from some occasionally spotty special effects, Fall is every bit as sweeping and thrilling as one would expect from the poster.
We open on a trio of characters as their excursion brings new meaning to “rock climbing.” Married couple Dan (Mason Gooding, 2022’s Scream, Love, Victor) and Becky (Currey) are accompanied by Becky’s BFF, Hunter (Gardner), as the group scales a massive mountain together. In a shocking burst of tragedy, Dan loses his grip after sticking his arm through a hole in the cliffside, resulting in him trying to recover before horribly plummeting to his death. This opening stinger is quite the way to bring us into the world of Fall, and provides an immediate, tangible connection for the audience to latch onto.
We next flash forward an oddly specific 51 weeks later, just shy of Dan’s one year death anniversary. Becky is still deep in grief. She calls Dan’s phone relentlessly to hear his voicemail message, drowns her sorrows in alcohol, and dodges various attempts from her father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Walking Dead, The Unholy) to let herself move on from the devastating loss of her husband. Hunter promptly arrives just when it seems Becky may need her the most, and with an intriguing proposition. At only a six hour drive and being the fourth highest structure in the United States, climbing the 2000-foot tall B67 TV Tower could be the adventure of a lifetime. Furthermore, the tippy top of the tower appears the perfect spot to finally scatter Dan’s ashes in a beautiful, unforgettable way.
Reluctantly, Becky decides that confronting her fears may physiologically be her only way forward. Driven by Dan’s endless mantra (“If you’re scared of dying, don’t be afraid to live”), Becky tags along with Hunter on this dangerous journey. Hunter, now a famous YouTuber known for her outrageous stunts and travels, appears cocky and fake on camera. Becky urges her to act more genuine as they trek to their tower. Now abandoned and removed from maps, a gate reading “NO TRESPASSING” is not enough to dissuade the women from continuing. Armed with waters, a drone, a selfie stick, and Dan’s ashes, the stage is set for pure survival horror.
Vultures feasting on animals and creaky ladders serve as harbingers of what is to come. In the lead up to Hunter and Becky’s long climb, director Scott Mann ratchets up the tension by channeling Final Destination in every loose screw and rickety ladder rung. Hunter seems to gaslight Becky the whole way up, poking fun at her nervousness, urging her not to look down, and telling Becky to sing a nursery rhyme to calm her frazzled nerves. By the time they reach the top, I was a nervous wreck. Things go horribly wrong so quickly, and much of it is thanks to Hunter’s antics. Shortly after an emotional moment of release in scattering Dan’s ashes—and getting the perfect shots with her drone that Hunter can eventually post to Youtube—Becky violently falls along with the full remains of the ladder that leads all the way up.
Becky’s initial stumble results in their bag of belongings snagged too far down to reach on a satellite. No one within miles, no cell service that high up, no water—Becky and Hunter are stuck thousands of feet in the air with seemingly no way of escape. Fall leans into the scariness of this scenario, toying with the interpersonal relationships of Becky and Hunter. Regrets are had, secrets come to light, and nightmarish visions of danger haunt every waking moment. Even in spite of a few minor faults, I was so invested in the character work that I didn’t mind one bit.
In the final act, a surprising twist occurs that may make or break Fall for a lot of viewers. I personally felt that it fits with the movie well, and in the beautiful execution, sets itself apart from similar twists in other films. A new wrinkle unfolds in nearly every possible solution to their problems, and as such, the pace lets up only to further the development of these two women coming to terms with their outward lives. Foreshadowing is sprinkled throughout that will likely contribute to repeat viewings. One of the best thrillers of the year left my palms sweating in anticipation of what would happen next. Fall is a great big-screen offering one will want to see on the hugest screen possible, and easy to recommend given its PG-13 rating.
Fall scales its way to theaters everywhere on Friday, August 12th.