August has always been a wasteland, the Sunday night of months, when the weather is at its sticky worst and everybody who has the ability to fuck off to someplace more pleasant has already done so. If you don’t have the means, there’s the cheaper sanctuary of the cineplex, with its welcoming darkness and arctic air-conditioning — except that after a summer in which theatrical releases mounted a rousing comeback, the studios neglected to schedule any big movies for this period in which we most need something dumb and fun. Fortunately, there’s a not-that-big movie that fits the bill of being silly and simple enough to fill a lazy afternoon without demanding anything strenuous from its audience at all. That movie is Fall, in which two young women climb up to the top of a remote TV tower for the sake of closure — and also content — and then get stuck up there.
Fall is part of that grand cinematic tradition in which attractive actors get trapped somewhere dangerous and have to struggle to save themselves, hopefully for at least the 80 minutes required for an acceptable feature-length. Recent-ish participants include Ryan Reynolds, who in a lull in his career back in 2010 spent the entirety of Buried in a wooden coffin; his spouse Blake Lively, who was trapped on a rock in the ocean by a persistent shark in the improbably good in 2016’s The Shallows; and Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers, who got marooned on a ski lift suspended over some convenient wolves in 2010’s Frozen. Like those movies, what Fall offers is a double layer of tension. Will Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) figure out a way to make it off a 2,000-foot TV tower unscathed? And will writer-director Scott Mann figure out a way to draw out the suspense for long enough when there are only so many things that can happen on top of a 2,000-foot TV tower and one of them is in the title?
Does it really matter? I’m tired. Tapped out. I have no means for a vacation at the moment and nothing else left to give to this season, and Fall asks for so little that it feels like too much to demand something as basic as logic or characters in return. See, Becky’s husband Dan (Mason Gooding) died during a rock-climbing excursion the two of them were taking with Hunter, and a year later, Becky’s still mourning — you can tell by the fact that she drinks alone at bars. Then Hunter, her internet-famous bestie, shows up with a proposal that will help Becky get her mojo back: They’re going to climb the decommissioned B67 TV tower out in the California desert. Becky is a sad brunette and Hunter is a fun blonde, and that’s about all there is to the two, despite a brief gesture toward an extreme-sports frenemies dynamic right out of The Descent. Braving the height looks like the bigger challenge at first — there’s a ladder up the side of the tower, so it doesn’t require Spider-Man-like free-climbing skills. But then the ladder, rusted and neglected, sheers off, leaving the two women trapped on a narrow platform high above the earth.
There’s blistering sun, and an attempt to get help with a flare gun, and when things get really desperate, some marauding vultures. Mann and his crew built a version of the tower close to a cliff to give his shots a real sense of dizzying height and a more tangible sense of danger. An incredibly weak twist pays off with a hilariously gruesome, triumphant finale. But what really makes Becky and Hunter’s little saga so seasonally appropriate is that it feels like a consolation for those of us feeling a little stuck ourselves. These two daring, adventure-seeking women head off for what’s supposed to be a fun getaway that tests their limits and restores their sense of self, and what happens? They get stranded, sunburnt and dehydrated, unable to get a phone signal or anyone’s attention as scavengers try to eat them. Sure, the vertiginous shots up the side of the tower are stomach-turning, but what’s really satisfying is the message that sometimes it’s better just to stay home. It’s Fall, get it? Summer is over.