Sunday, August 14, 2022

How High: FALL

All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, as the old saying sometimes attributed to Jean-Luc Godard goes. Fall says, how about two girls and a decommissioned radio tower? The movie is very simple, but only a little stupid. It thrills in its way to the possibilities of low-brow cinema’s charms. It’s about a pair of young women (Shazam’s Grace Caroline Currey and Runaways’ Virginia Gardner) who love to go rock climbing like that guy in the vertiginous documentary Free Solo. There’s an accident in the first scene, reminiscent of Vertical Limit’s opening deadly mountain climbing mishap. A year later, they decide to shake off their mourning by climbing a 2,000 foot antenna in the middle of the Arizona desert. Seems like a bad idea. Their trip up is bad enough, each rusty prong and rattling screw reason enough to make staying put on solid ground look the better option. They don’t see that, though. The movie shamelessly serves up those insert shots and sound effects of groaning metal for us, the better to twist the suspense. Even if you haven’t seen the previews, you know they’ll be stuck at the top. Indeed, when the last few hundred feet of ladder inevitably break away immediately upon contemplating their return journey, we’ve been set up well to squirm. The stakes are transparently obvious: we hope they don’t fall. The curiosity driving the movie forward is also totally plain: how will they ever get down?

The big screen vertigo of it all is a sweaty-palmed, lizard-brained use of a theatrical release’s scale—so much so I was glad a few of the effects shots in this cheap programmer are a smidge dodgy, the better to prevent me from completely succumbing to my fear of heights. Sometimes director Scott Mann and his co-writer Jonathan Frank try to gin up extra complications by having some rote interpersonal conflict wedged into discussions of survival strategies, but those moments are mercifully brief. The movie never loses sight of the young women’s plight. It stays perched on a sliver of metal with them, the ladies huddled just below a blinking red light warning away aircraft. You know that’s high. The project works its little premise for cheap thrills—with plenty of time to contemplate the dangers, wonder about the upper body strength required for some of the women’s feats, and consider how cold they must be in shorts or leggings and low-cut shirts. The slim story complicates, and resolves, with a fine sense of B-movie surprise, the kind that had me chuckling at its willingness to just go there. So it all adds up to a decent time at the multiplex—a simple hit of tension and release. There’s no stretching for metaphors or larding up flashbacks or leaning overly hard on sentimentality. It just looks down with knee-shaking wooziness and wonders how in the world they’ll get out of this one.

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