Autumn | movie reviews

To fallfrom director Scott Mann, makes a great
trailer. The camera soars the length of a 2000 foot high disused television antenna and when it gets to the top we are treated to the sight of someone suspended in the air. Had the film been short, perhaps 30-45 minutes (or thereabouts), it might have been able to capture and expand on the throat-tightening feeling generated by the trailer. However, at 107 minutes the padding is evident. Although acrophobics will never be comfortable with anything happening so high above the earth, most viewers will only feel the tension build-up when the director tells us to, mostly due to the cues offered by the camera and music.

To be fair, Mann gets the pulse racing on several occasions. Most of these moments are predictable but that doesn’t take away from their effectiveness. The problem is, for an hour of the movie, it’s basically two people trapped on a small platform over a third of a mile in the sky. This opens the door to a lot of mundane dialogue and a not-so-interesting “twist” that tries with minimal success to build layers on the main characters’ best friend relationship. One suspects that Mann knows viewers aren’t too keen on that sort of thing, but he’s trapped by the commercial necessity of getting the running time beyond 90 minutes. (Just as he had to resort to deep forgery technology to replace many instances of the f-word to meet Lionsgate’s PG-13 warrant).

The opening sequence economically establishes the two main characters – climbers Becky (Grace Fulton) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) – by depicting the situation that causes the former to turn her back on the sport that has so far defined her life. Becky’s husband, fellow daredevil Dan (Mason Gooding), dies when his loosely anchored rope is unable to save him in a fall. 51 weeks later, Becky has retreated into a shell and even her father’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) best efforts fail to persuade her to emerge. That’s when Hunter, who was with the couple on the fateful day, reenters Becky’s life with a proposal: She needs someone to accompany her on her latest social media adventure (where she goes by the nickname from “Danger D”): climb to the top of one of the tallest man-made structures in the world and shoot video from there using handheld cameras and drones.

To fall doesn’t have any conventional villains, which is a good thing. The closest are two car thieves and a mean buzzard who has never seen Conan the Barbarian (think of the tree of misfortune). However, the fabricated drama between the friends feels like it was cast in a cheesy YA novel. The intrepid duo face a variety of difficulties: no cellular signal, a decrepit ladder that broke loose and collapsed from the climb, physical injuries, dehydration, and a single flare that might (or might not) work. Bad planning, your name is Hunter.

The lead actors, Grace Fulton and Virginia Gardner, do enough to make the characters believable without taking them to the next level. Both have had great careers so far with a handful of roles on the big and small screen and To fall isn’t likely to land them on the A-list. (Fulton found a way through the Shazam! movies; playing one of Michael’s victims in the 2018 Halloween didn’t do the same for Gardner.) They work like pawns with everything Human — their relationship, their interactions, their background — being contingent on the high-octane thrillers.

Like a horror movie To fall is built using familiar tropes. Like horror movie protagonists, Becky and Hunter do incredibly stupid things that amount to venturing into a dark basement to check the fuse box. Structurally, there are many similarities between To fall
and a typical slasher movie, including the main question of whether the main character(s) will survive. The formula is simple: raise the tension to a high level, release it quickly and sharply, rest for a moment, then repeat.

It all boils down to whether there’s enough premise to build a feature film about the struggles of two characters. As B movies go, this one is good enough to hold attention and wring tension without doing anything overly ambitious. Analogues may include different but fundamentally comparable narratives The shallows
and Crawl. Forgettable? Yes. But good enough to provide a diversion for a few hours.

Fall (US, 2022)

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