Review: Two women alone on a platform 2,000 feet in the air? ‘Fall’ somehow makes it work

Two women perched on a small platform high in the sky.
Virginia Gardner, left, and Grace Caroline Currey in “Fall.”

One of cinema’s great wonders is the way a few moving pictures on a flat screen — composed and choreographed just so — can make a viewer’s palms sweat and heart race. Just look at “Fall,” a survival thriller that at times feels like an extended experiment in audience-poking, testing how many times director Scott Mann can induce a state of mild panic by repeatedly showing the same image. That image? Two young women standing on a small metal platform, perched 2,000 feet above the ground, attached to a narrow tower with no ladder.

“Fall” stars Grace Caroline Currey as Becky, a skilled mountain climber still reeling a year after witnessing the accidental death of her husband during an ascent. Virginia Gardner plays her best friend, Hunter, a social media influencer and daredevil who tries to shake Becky out of her torpor by inviting her along as she shimmies up an abandoned communications tower in the desert. On the way up, the ladies do have a ladder — rusty and shaky. But while they’re triumphantly taking selfies at the top, the way back down collapses.

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Mann and his co-writer, Jonathan Frank, follow a lot of the formulas for these kinds of movies, for better and for worse. On the downside, they pad out their story with Becky’s personal trauma, making her unresolved feelings about her husband’s death a bigger part of the plot than they need to be.

On the upside, “Fall” does what the best survival movies do, by carefully enumerating the resources the heroes have at their disposal so that we can enjoy watching them figure out how to deploy these pieces wisely — or wince as they waste chances. At the moment when the ladder crashes, Becky and Hunter have no cell service, and the backpack with their water is stuck on a dish about 20 feet below them. But they do have a drone camera, a flare gun, two phones and climbing gear. How can they use what they have to get help, while avoiding the circling vultures and whipping winds?

A similar question could be asked of the filmmakers: Can they do enough with this tiny amount of material to fill a whole movie? Well … sort of. Mann and Frank throw in some unexpected twists and obstacles; but while this film is quite long, it still feels like it’s missing one or two more story beats, either early or late. The space occupied by Becky’s heartbreak could’ve been filled with something more viscerally gripping.

That said: Oh jeez, that tower is so tall, and that platform so small, and those women look like they’re barely hanging on. For the most part, “Fall” works because it plucks on the same raw nerve, over and over. How many times can Mann freak out the audience by cutting to a vertiginous shot of the unfolding crisis? Every time. Sometimes cinema is simple.



Rating: PG-13, for bloody images, intense peril and strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: In general release Aug. 12