Fall Review

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For Fall, you can basically picture a 70s B-movie disaster-movie-poster tagline: something like “2,000 feet of TV tower terror!” It’s that kind of thriller — or rather this is an enjoyably throwback breed of thriller — the sort that has no interest in doing anything but making your palms sweat and your adrenal glands kick into overdrive. In those modest goals, it is entirely successful.

It’s ruthless genre efficiency. Characters and their respective motives are established quickly and unfussily: Hunter (Virginia Gardner, having a fearlessly good time) is a thrill-seeking YouTuber who gains clout by climbing up the fictional tower; her best pal Becky (Grace Caroline Currey, the emotional anchor and audience surrogate for the “nope!” moments) is a grieving widow hoping to conquer her climbing fears. Both are seeking closure after tragedy struck 12 months earlier, in a Mission: Impossible 2-style opening sequence (a comparison openly embraced when one character calls another “Ethan Hunt”).

So yes, against all common sense they agree to climb the “fourth-tallest structure in the United States,” and 20 minutes into runtime they’re on the ladder. Soon enough, rusty steel cables start rattling — as well as your nerves — leaving us in no doubt what film we’re watching here. Essentially it’s problems being solved under extreme conditions (How do we get a phone signal? How do we drink water? How do we wee?); setbacks piling up and minor victories being achieved. That means it follows quite a familiar path — but there’s at least one major surprise.

But it hardly matters if its plot is somewhat formulaic because the experience itself is so brilliantly done; so richly, stupidly, edge-of-your-seat exciting. Scott Mann’s direction and MacGregor’s vertiginous cinematography do a decent job of making a boringly functional structure look cinematic and exciting; when a character looks down at one point, the camera whips down too. Yes there’s CGI and green screens but the location photography in California’s Shadow Mountains make full use of natural light and big skies, totally selling the danger.

It’s silly. Of course it’s silly. You don’t need a science degree to know that multiple laws of physics are being defied here. There are terrible decisions being made roughly every ten or 15 minutes (“It feels solid,” one character says of a ladder that looks anything but). There is dialogue about personal drama that feels like it could probably wait until after they’ve sorted all the life-or-death stuff first. Doesn’t matter: Fall wants to thrill — and does so with flying, vertigo-inducing colours.

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