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Gene Siskel once said about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “I don’t know how they did it, and I don’t want to know.” I feel the same about Fall, a taut, excruciatingly tense thriller about two climbers stuck at the top of a 2,000-foot-tall TV tower with no way to get down. The perilous situation has been faked so well that I almost want to believe the two actors, Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner, were actually up that high and doing all those crazy climbing stunts. But only almost. It was still most likely a nightmare to plan and shoot, and depending on how squeamish you are about heights, it may be a nightmare to watch. 

The “human element” is set up without fuss. Becky (Currey), Hunter (Gardner), and Becky’s husband Dan (Mason Gooding) are mountain climbing when Dan falls to his death. Almost a year later, Becky is existing in grief, and Hunter pops in to talk Becky into another adventure. The TV tower beckons, out in the middle of nowhere, and the plan is to climb it, scatter Dan’s ashes from the top, and face down any demons of fear Becky has. Becky eventually says yes, because it would be a short movie if she didn’t, and the two friends take off for the tower, which turns out to be much rustier and more structurally iffy than it looks from the ground.

Fall was directed by Scott Mann, who wrote it with Jonathan Frank, and it helps that he makes the leads smart and resourceful. Becky and Hunter make the most of the little supplies they have, using out-of-signal phones, a drone, and a “life hack” that I hope doesn’t get impressionable viewers electrocuted. The physical challenges of the women’s ordeal are sobering and convincing, their responses to those challenges often ingenious. We feel we’re in good company, and we come to care about the impetuous Hunter and the heartsick Becky. There are a few twists in store, too, one of them not actually connected to the situation at hand. Some may consider it unnecessary, but it allows us to breathe a little and it adds some shading to Becky and Hunter’s friendship.

I was a fan of the lost-at-open-sea thriller Open Water, to which Fall has been compared. But that film was somewhat limited by its setting, the relentless sameness of the ocean. Here, cinematographer Miguel “MacGregor” Olaso, shooting with an IMAX camera, brings out the beauty as well as the threat of the surroundings (the Mojave Desert) — the sky, the sun, the clouds, the occasional passing storm (more could’ve been done with the thunderstorm, although the small budget probably didn’t allow for it). Even at night, the lazily blinking light at the tip of the tower reveals, in red tones, and then conceals. Mann uses the scenes at night as another way for us to catch our breath and listen to the women talk.

I can’t say I wasn’t glad when Fall released me from its breath-stopping grip. After a while, the rising hopes, and hopes dashed, verge on a painful sort of nihilism — oh, no, this isn’t working either! — even though we understand it’s necessary to change up the problems and keep us interested. But there are enough elements here, other than the endurance test of the plot, to keep us aesthetically engaged. The performances, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Becky’s concerned dad, are human-scaled and effective. I will complain, however, that Lionsgate insisted that Fall go out with a PG-13 rating, meaning that a couple dozen instances of the F-bomb had to be redubbed (except one). I hope there’s an R-rated cut to come, with all the “fucks” intact. If any movie’s events justified foul mouths on the parts of their leads, Fall would be that movie.

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