Legends of ‘Fall’

Don’t sleep on Netflix’s near-perfect vertigo-terror B-movie, or the sequel to come

Percolating on Netflix platforms for almost a year, Fall, the story of two young women trapped atop a 2000 foot decommissioned TV antennae in the middle of the Mojave desert–King Kongs beloved Empire State Building stands only 1,250 feet high–is one of the best movies released over the past two years. In fact, it may well be one of the best “survival horror” films ever made.

That’s not to say Fall is perfect. But in the finest narrow-goals, no-ego B-movie tradition of giving the audience what it wants, this unpretentious little number full of nice surprises, smooth foreshadowing, jump scares and even a nifty Henry James, Turn of the Screw-style twist nails its landing.

British Director Steven Mann and Spanish cinematographer MacGregor set out to use their evident directorial and cinematographic skills to give audiences an immersive, palms-sweating, heart-pounding, point of view” whooshing theme-park thrill ride, and they succeeded.

But, as with all the really good rides you do have to endure a bit of tedium before the safety bar locks into position, the car rolls forward, your neck snaps back and things lurch into action. In this case the perfunctory equivalent of waiting in line is the approximately 20 minute eye rollingly cliche-laden clunky set up necessary to get our ladies on to that sun-baked throw-mat-sized platform suspended 2000 feet up in the sky.

But even the film’s credibility impaired setup approached in the right way provides its own kind of enjoyment.

Who knew Becky (an excellent Grace Caroline Currey), a Generation Z woman who became a widow when her husband died while scaling a mountain face, would have a Rockford Files 1970s-era answering machine shamelessly doubling as a film-intro expository device? Hiding under blankets and empty liquor bottles, bedraggled Becky is at the tail end of a 51-week funk since husband Dan (Mason Gooding) fell to his death.

Cue the arrival of Hunter, aka “Dangerous Dee”, Becky’s You-Tuber best friend, played by a high energy young Reese Witherspoonish Virginia Gardner. Hunter was climbing with them when Dan fell. She has returned after taking her own time off to absorb the tragedy to shake Becky out of her torpor. She will force Becky to confront her fears. Mind-numbing gazes into mirrors and self-affirmation platitudes follow.

Hunter tells Becky how fitting it would be to spread deceased Dan’s ashes Big Lebowski style from the top of the nearby B67 TV Tower, once the tallest structure in the U.S. The two set off, without telling anyone, for the remote Mojave desert dwelling tower. Soon they set their first tentative foot  on the rickety structure’s convincingly creaky ladder (kudos to the movie’s sound crew). The wind catches the audience’s hair and we are off to the survival horror/problem solving races!

The fact this initial rough patch in the movie does so little to impair the overall enjoyment the film imparts is due in no small part to the “willing” part of “willing suspension of disbelief”. This movie has flaws. However, its adrenaline-rush inducing strong points and its ability to draw the audience into a collaborative effort to conjure a way down that tower–What happens when you drop a smart phone tucked in a Converse sneaker from 2000 feet?–soon create a goodwill and charm that results in absolution of its minor flaws. “Nopes” do emerge and flicker in this film but for all but the doggedly unfun they quickly disappear.

A lot of the goodwill engendered stems from the filmmakers’s brave decision, working within a minuscule $3 million budget, to film on location in the desert and work without CGI to the extent possible. To achieve this, Mann and his crew did some clever problem-solving of their own. Enabled by a genius bit of location scouting, the film makers replicated the top 100 ft of the actual B67 TV Tower on the edge of a 2,000 foot cliff, thus allowing for flawless immersive vertigo-inducing footage with precious few green screen tells .

While we are praising the film’s naturalism; hats off to the movie’s vultures. As villains go, these vile, sharp taloned, huge winged, bald blood soaked headed birds swirling about the tower, eager to dig their beaks into the festering wounds of our heroes, are primal and relentless. No interest in social media and clicks in those dead black eyes. Just survival.

Fall is a little bit of B-Movie heaven. Something that would play at one of those long forgotten dusty desert drive ins on a perfect double bill with James William Guercio’s Electra Glide in Blue.

Riding on its predecessor’s insurgent word of mouth success, Fall 2 is already in development.


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Samuel Porteous

Samuel Porteous is a Shanghai/Hong Kong-based artist/author and founder of Drowsy Emperor Studio represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA). His work includes visual arts, illustration, graphic novels, screenwriting and film. Sam has published in the WSJ, Financial Times, SCMP, Fortune China, the Globe and Mail, National Post and Hong Kong Standard among others. He is also the author of "Ching Ling Foo: America's First Chinese Superstar" a biography of the late polymath magician come diplomat and author/illustrator of the graphic novel series Constable Khang's Mysteries of Old Shanghai.

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