DON’T LOOK DOWN!
(AND DON’T WATCH THIS MOVIE)
Survival movies have been around for quite some time and have had mixed results with viewers. Tales of death-defying moments of surviving the unbridled wrath of natural elements, surreal circumstances, and unlucky situations have always been fixed point of fascination with storytelling, leading to one suspense after another and finding thrills within those “fight for flight” moments. Yet, sometimes these films struggle to find a proper balance within its own context, with an unbalanced presentation of trying to focus more on the actual survival sequences (scares, suspense, and thrills) and not much on its characters and story progression. Sometimes narrative can be well-founded within true life events (i.e., based on a true story), while other times some survival accounts were created from fiction. Such prime examples of lates includes 2015’s The Martian, 2015’s Everest, 2016’s The Revenant, 2017’s 47 Meters Down, 2018’s Adrift, 2019’s Crawl, and many others. Now, Lionsgate and director Scott Mann release the latest film to tackle such suspenseful thrills of surviving a dangerous situation in the movie titled Fall. Does this latest project find the “right stuff” to present a dizzying and terrifying scenario or is it just a shell of a story with a weak premise
Dan (Mason Gooding) and Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) Connor are adrenaline junkies, looking to find the next up excitement of exploring and adventure through nature. Taking a trip to the mountain, the couple, who are joined by their friend Shiloh Hunter (Virginia Gardner), are ready for a climbing expedition, with the threesome scaling the mountain side towards the peak. Unfortunately, disaster quickly befalls the group, with Dan losing his footing and plunges to his death during the high climb, leaving his wife shattered over the loss of life situation. A year later, Becky is drowning in sorrow and turns towards alcohol, unable to process her grief, which worries her estranged father, James (Jeffery Dean Morgan), who is urging his daughter to get past her fears. Rescuing to her aid, Hunter has the perfect remedy to help her friend, pushing Becky to join her as she seeks out the B67 TV Tower, which was once the highest structure in America. Now, however, the towering derelict structure is rusted over, and loose bolts litter the metallic overhang, but Hunter has a YouTube channel to fill, beginning her ascent with Becky, who’s trying to stay out of her head. When the pair get to the top of the tower, the ladder crumbles underneath them, stranding the friends, who are forced to work with limited options at their disposal as there fleeting happy moments are dashed by trying to survive on top of a 2,000 ft. tower and try to attract help from down below.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I mentioned above, survival movies and / or project endeavors have been its fair share of mixed opinions throughout the years. Of course, there are plenty of so-called “survival” features, including more science fiction ones (i.e., cosmic disasters, alien invasions, and unearthed primordial creatures), but the ones I’m mostly talking about are the more realistic survival features that usually focus surviving natural environments, battling the elements, and dangerous “real-life” situations. Naturally, filmmakers clearly want to show us (the viewers) the dangers and sometimes horrific events of being stuck in these circumstances in both the physical state of everything (characters and environment), but also in the mental stability in the usage of losing hope and acceptance of life finality when things look bleak. Some great survival movies have clearly demonstrated these proper balance as well cinematic flourishes, including The Martian, The Revenant, 127 Hours, Everest, The Grey, and others. The flip side to that is that there are films that lack the proper guidance in wanting to showcase such balance and end up with weak characterization or lacking a proper narration that surrounds a weak survival premise, including Survival Island, 47 Meters Down, and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. Regardless of which one, survival style movies shine as beacon of understanding of the enduring of the human spirit of finding a way to survive through harsh conditions and even harsher scenarios.
Of course, this brings me back to talking about Fall, a 2022 survival thriller and the latest feature film offering of this cinematic variety of suspenseful storytelling. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie, which was mostly due because the project is moderately a “low budget” production, with not a whole of marketing campaign funds to spend on the project. I think my first introduction to this movie was when I saw the film’s movie trailer a few months back when I first saw during the “coming attractions” previews when I went to the theaters during the summertime. From the trailer preview alone, the movie looked to have a weak premise. I don’t know… it was just a feeling that I had with it. It looked like it was going to filled with some heightened “fight or flight” mode and some suspense moments of two twentysomething year old’s who climb a TV tower and getting stranded at the top do make for some compelling thrills, yet I did have linger feeling that this particular movie was going more primarily focused on the suspense / survival angle and not so much on the character / story development. So, I wasn’t “super keen” on seeing Fall when it was scheduled to be released on August 12th, 2022, and actually didn’t go see in theaters. After a few weeks, I began to read a few reviews of the movie, with most critics and moviegoers having mixed opinions on it. Some said it was bad, while others said it was okay. With such a large division on opinions of the movie, I decided to check out the movie when Fall came to home release (renting it on VUDU) one night to see if the movie was worth seeing. And what did I think of it? Well, I did have low expectations for this movie and those expectations were really not met. Despite a few technical filmmaking achievements and few snippets of brilliance, Fall ends up being a shallow and sometimes boring survival thriller that lacks the necessary dramatics to make up a decent endeavor. It’s not disastrous terrible, just poorly managed, haphazardly half-baked, and not super exciting to fully investment in the time to watch.
Fall is directed by Scott Mann, whose previous directorial several short films such as Tug of War, Pocket Thief, and Stars in Their Eyes Kids, as well as feature films like Heist and Final Score. Given his background, Mann isn’t really a top-billed / known director, so it’s understandable that he would tackle a small budgeted film like Fall. To his credit, Mann somewhat does a decent job on this project; approach the feature the primarily focus on trying to make a very “vertical” survival movie, with a large emphasis on the terrifying moments of being stranded on top of a lonely towering location in the middle of nowhere. To that end, Mann succeeds, with the Fall capturing those moments quite well. The suspenseful scenes presented definitely do work, with Becky and Hunter slowly rising on the old and decrepit tower and then being stranded up there…. isolated high up in the air with such little option to communicate with the world below them. The action thrills definitely help elevate the film’s shortcoming, with Mann heavily focusing on these sequences to build dramatic tension as both Becky and Hunter scramble to find a way down or to get help. The small platform where the two girls have to survive on has that isolating feeling; finding their time up there to be the main set piece for the feature as they interact and try to make sense of the situation and trying a way to descend without falling and / or dying. Heck, there is even the fear of vulture predators that sense of their circumstance, with Mann depicting one scene with such grueling tension that it made me squirm a little bit. Basically, if you’re a person who hates heights or having the vertigo sensation while watching these types of movies, Fall might not be the right viewing experience for you. Just a pre-cautious for some viewers out there. Just remember…like Becky and Hunter in the film…. don’t look down!
Interestingly, despite the film’s limitations on encompassing a strong narrative (more on that below), the Fall does utilize a several strong thematic messages in its tale. Of course, there is the depiction of overcoming grief….no matter the situation, with the heavy emphasis on letting go of the past and moving forward, which is quite universal. Secondly, the movie showcases facing fears to overcome challenges, which was shown with Becky ascending the TV tower to bypass her personal grief of losing Dan, which (again) is fundamental for everyone. Lastly, the actual will to survive, with the insurmountable power facing danger (and sometimes certain death) and pushing yourself to fight to survive…. regardless if the odds are stacked against you. All of these key messages are quite palpable and the to play a part of Fall’s story, which can be extrapolated into the real world and for inspiring to “move forward” in the face of troubled times or survival circumstances.
Lastly, Mann keeps the feature moving a moderately fast pace and, while does create some problematic areas along the way (more on that below), it does semi-work in Fall’s favor, with the feature having a runtime of 107 minutes (one hour and forty-seven minutes) by getting in and getting out within a reasonable time. In the end, while not perfect, Mann certainly makes Fall has some intriguing and workable moments that keeps the feature quasi-engaged with the plight that Becky and Hunter find themselves in at the top of a 2,000 ft. tall TV tower and the attempts that they make to survive.
For its presentation, Fall is a moderate production that doesn’t require a whole lot to capture its story within a cinematic representation. That’s not to say the movie looks cheap and, with only having a budget of only $3 million, I do believe that Mann and his team make the most of their production funds for the feature. So, working within the confines of the feature’s budget, the movie utilizes what it can and ends up with some decent presentation through the usage of background / setting nuances. Thus, credit must be given to the film’s “behind the scenes” main players, including Pete Hickok (art direction), Scott Daniel (production design), and Lisa Catalina (costume designs), for their efforts in working with such limit budget and producing something that ultimately works. In addition, the film’s cinematography by MacGregor is pretty good, especially with vertical shots of K67 TV tower and how dangerous the climb up it for some very dramatic looking shots and angles. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Tim Despic, is incredible to listen. While I usually do praise a lot of movies for their soundtrack and musical composition utilization in the films that are presented in, Despic’s score is terrific and definitely incorporates a lot of drama nuances into the feature. The building of suspenseful moments, the bombastic pressure of dire moments, and the quieter dialogue pieces all connect beautifully in the score and help build upon the thrills that the movie throws at the viewers. Big kudos to Despic involvement on the project.
Unfortunately, Fall, despite its survival thrills, can’t quite make a compelling argument to be considered a good (let alone a decent) endeavor, with several crucial points of criticism that puncture the feature from onset to conclusion. Where to do I start? Well, let’s start with the most prevalent one…. the story. Of course, when I saw the film’s movie trailer, I sort of kind of knew that the film’s focus was going to be primarily on the actual survival elements and not so much on any type of strong storytelling beats. Even other survival thrillers out there follow that same particular suit, with a heavier emphasis on action than story. That being said, what’s presented in Fall is dismal…to say the least. The script, which was penned by Jonathan Frank and Scott Mann, is basically a bared bones foundation for storytelling, with a very interesting step that quickly diminishes into such a straightforward and thinly sketched tale to be told. With the movie’s narrative being mostly focused on two girls stranded on top of a lonely tower, the script had a such a large opportunity to explore the pair’s personalities and past events within a sort of reflection flashback sequences. The script touches upon a few key elements (told through dialogue exchanges) yet it feels a bit empty-handed and could’ve been expanded upon for more depth and understanding of these two stranded individuals. In a nutshell, Fall is a generic run-of-the-mill survival movie, with the basic of basic narrative points that had the potential to be something compelling, especially in its strong themes, yet never blossoms into something more than just a half-baked narrative that lacks substances.
Naturally, this brings up the film’s premise, which feels very weak and shallow. Of course, this particular setup does have some interesting build up to the main attraction of the feature, yet it never fully delivers on that premise, with the Fall’s narrative failing to fully encompass the story it wants to tell. Once the setup is presented, the movie devolves into a very straightforward narrative that feels one-dimensional with a pay-off that comes with a mixed conclusion. What also doesn’t help the movie is in some of the dialogue lines that are presented throughout the movie, with some cheesy (a few cringeworthy) words spoken that fall of deft ears and feel wooden. This doesn’t help the movie’s more dramatic moments where these lines are spoken and render the movie’s character lines has laughable in a few scenes. Some of these parts are a reflection upon the films’ script, yet some come from Mann’s direction with some clearly struggling during several sequences of character / story balance, which makes Fall rather bland. This brings up the film’s pacing, with Mann keep everything to the bare minimum of making the movie progress forward in its storytelling and, while this does make the film move forward in a somewhat brisk manner, this comes at the expectance of expanded development in the feature for more well-roundness. In conjunction with that, the movie does feel boring as there’s not a whole lot that happens, especially during the middle portion of the feature.
Perhaps one of the more cringiest parts that Fall presents in the story is few moments where utter overusage of key parts that are stupid with scenes of over-the-top disbelief. For a movie that is supposed to be grounded in reality, Mann and his team heavily imply on such sequences with great ease to help build some dramatic tension. Yet, despite that notion, these scenes come as utterly stupid and cheesy, which definitely took me out of the movie’s world. The disbelief of such things could happen is mind boggling that it lessens the feature’s credibility and hinges on being laughable when they appear. Thus, while the dangers of being stranded on a abandoned TV tower might feel scary, several scenes of stupidity and big disbelief diminish such magnitude of the death-defying situation.
Lastly, the film’s conclusion feels quite rushed and ends up hindering the feature’s final moments. Of course, the closing monologue voiceover was actually great in the movie and wraps up some of the feature’s themes into that portion, yet the actual ending feels rather clunky and hollow. It’s clear that the movie wanted more to say during this part and could’ve been easily expanded upon by closing out character development, yet it never and ultimately creates a very hurried and almost anti-climactic ending that never delivers on a “full-circle” conclusion.
The cast in Fall is kept relatively small and have their moments in the spotlight for some decent performances here and there. Yet, this small collection of talent falters with such a flimsy script and thinly presented material that they have difficulty in trying to build upon with little go on. Naturally, the movie two main protagonist characters (Becky Connor and Shiloh Hunter) get the most screen time in the film, with actresses Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner doing most of the heavy lifting throughout the majority of the feature. Of the two, Currey, who is known for her roles in Revenge, Annabelle: Creation, and Shazam!, is the film’s true main protagonist of the feature and gets more of the “substance” dialogue lines and dramatics than her co-star lead. For her part, I think that Currey does a pretty decent job, yet still feels like a shallow main character. Of course, that’s not so much on Currey’s performance, but mostly on how she is written in the movie, with vague notions of her past and some corny lines to match it. It’s not for a lack of trying as we (the viewers) do sympathize with some of Becky’s past troubles and current circumstances and yet something all about rings hollow. Thus, despite Currey’s attempt to help elevate the character, Beck ultimately becomes such an adequate main character that feels half-baked due to the feature’s lack of script shaping and wooden dialogue moments. Yet, I do have to admit that the final monologue scene that Currey’s Becky says was pretty good.
Behind her, Gardner, who is known for her roles in Halloween, Project Almanac, and All the Bright Places, gets to toil around with some of the story’s more comedic lines, with most of levity been sprinkled throughout the movie’s plot. That’s not saying that they are hilarious, but those moments do help break-up the tension in many of the film’s more suspenseful scenes. Like Currey, Gardner gets a good amount of dialogue lines to handle, yet most of the written lines (and how her character of Hunter is presented) comes as wonky a bit limp as if important pieces of character were scrapped from the feature and ended up on the cutting room floor.
Unfortunately, looking beyond those two characters, the other two supporting players in the movie are woefully underdeveloped, despite their importance in the Fall’s story. This includes the characters Dan Connor and James, Becky’s husband and Becky’s dad, who is played by actors Mason Gooding and Jeffery Dean Morgan. Both give decent performance within the limited time that they are on-screen in the film, so there acting ability is a bad point, but rather their overall involvement on the project. It’s basically how both Dan and James are written into the movie and how they are utilized in the script that renders these particular individuals rather poorly. Dan plays a pivotal part in the Fall and, despite that notion, he doesn’t amount to just being a throwaway character at the beginning of the feature. It would’ve been interesting to see more flashback scenes with him and Becky (and maybe even Hunter as well) that could’ve been beneficial to the movie and could’ve added context to the relationship that the three of them had with each other. The same can be said with James, with the parental figure in Becky’s life being heavily implied on being strained and having a sort of estrangement amongst the pair. Again, there was the potential for so much more of exploring the relationship between Beck and James through more additional scenes as well as a few flashback moments. However, they are not present in the movie, with both Gooding and Morgan doing the best they can with such small material given to them and so minimal of screen time in the Fall. Thus, they end up being rather forgettable, underwhelming, and just underutilized the feature. Plus, Morgan, who was the big recognizable name of the feature, is just criminally underwhelming and limited in the feature by only bookending the movie. Such a shame and a disappointment.
The rest of the cast, including actor Jasper Cole (The Family Business and Everybody Hates Chris) as Steve, actor Darrell Dennis (Guilt Free Zone and Blackstone) as Randy, actor Bamm Ericsen (Station 19 and American Crime Story) as an unnamed police officer, and actress Julia Pace Mitchell (The Young and the Restless and All the Queen’s Men) as the unnamed dinner server, are mostly very minor supporting characters in the movie, with most (if not all) only having one scene in the movie and that’s it. Nothing bad, just very minor roles in Fall.
Trying to pull her friend out of grieving funk, Hunter drags her friend Becky to climb a nearby 2,000 ft. TV tower in the middle of the desert for one last adrenaline filled escapade that turns dire when the pair get stranded up there and no way down in the movie Fall. Director Scott Mann’s latest film takes the classic survival thriller theatrics and turns those efforts into a vertical scaling misadventure escapade of def defying antics of trying to find a way down and receive help reaches dizzying heights. Unfortunately, while some elements do work in the film, the rest falter and crumble underneath such ambitions, especially in a weak premise, weaker narrative beats, cheesy dialogue moments, missed storytelling opportunities, a rushed conclusion, unrealistic scenes, and underutilized characters. Personally, I particularly didn’t care for this movie. I did have low expectations for this movie and, while there were a few nuances that I did like it, a great majority of the project felt half-baked and underwhelming for a feature film endeavor. Perhaps the movie could’ve worked as a short film (nine- or ten-minutes length) rather than stretching a simple plot for a motion picture length. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is just a simple “skip it” as it really doesn’t bring that much value of watching it nor replay ability. You’re better watching another survival movie to get your kicks of suspenseful thrills. In the end, Fall is a mixed bag of content that strives to a powerhouse survival thriller in its technical achievement and atmospheric heights yet ends up being a contrived and poorly executed that makes the whole affair a tiresome and utterly forgettable cinematic endeavor.
2.5 Out of 5 (Skip it)
Released On: August 12th, 2022
Reviewed On: November 29th, 2022
Fall is 107 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some bloody images, intense peril, and strong language