You know what we call a simple, primal, stranded-at-a-great height thriller like “Fall?” Pretty damned good for what it is.
Melodramatic and nerve-wracking, predictable and still jolting, this B-movie directed by Scott Mann (“Heist,””Final Score”) toys with us and plays the viewer like a cheap fiddle. But Mann and two good leads make it sing.
It begins the way every climbing thriller does, the way many a climbing documentary ends — somebody sees somebody else fall to his death. Here, it’s Becky (Grace Caroline Currey), going up a sheer rock wall with husband Dan (Mason Gooding) only to see him hurtle into the abyss below.
A year later, she’s still drinking and grieving, pushing away her pushy Dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was in “Heist”), still staring at the cardboard package on the counter with “human remains” marked on it.
It takes old pal Hunter (Virginia Gardner) to get her back “out there,” and by “out there” I mean “up there.” Hunter’s an adrenalin junkie who, as “Danger Dee,” has a Youtube channel documenting her fearless climbing feats, and a climbing friend who needs to get back on the horse that threw her.
“Do not let this fear consume you” is her way of goading Becky into joining her on an illegal climb, up “the old B67” transmission tower, out where the buzzards lurk and the Joshua Trees stand guard in the desert. Long out of commission, it’s 2000 feet tall, “the fourth highest in America,” and by God, they’re going up it.
With maintenance ladders going all the way up, this should be a piece of cake “and make GREAT video.” Hunter tends to sex up her climbs with sexed-up death-defying stunts, the last thing Becky needs.
But hey, “I didn’t wear this stupid (push up) bra for nothing!”
The “Danger of Death” signs surrounding the remote TV tower (not a transmission cable left on it) don’t scare them off. What they don’t notice, but simple close-ups show us, are the rusting turnbuckles, loose bolts and buzzards side-eying each other with a look that says “Lunch!”
Mann, who co-wrote the script with Jonathan Frank, sticks to formula. It’s build-up, release, over and over again through an opening series of fakeout frights. And then it’s REAL fright, relax, melodramatic twist, relax again, even BIGGER fright, and so on.
Former child actress Currey (“Ghost Whisperer,” now in the “Shazam!” movies) gives her lungs a workout. We buy into her terror. And she and the brassy Gardner (“Halloween,” “Runaways”) are credible enough climbers and pretty good at selling the scares and the “work the problem” sequences, far fetched as they might be.
But movies like “Fall” are all about the tropes (Foreshadowing, anyone?), the stunts and the editing, all in service of a formula that’s not wholly bulletproof, but close.
And here, enough of that pays off that while we notice how simple it all is, you give the devils their due. It’s still damned good for what it is.
Rating: PG-13, terror, profanity
Cast: Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Credits: Directed by Scott Mann, scripted by Jonathan Frank and Scott Mann. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:47