Quick synopsis: Becky is attempting to get over the death of her husband Dan. Her friend Hunter suggests climbing a 2,0000 foot radio tower in the middle of nowhere. It does not go well for them.
There are different levels to enjoying a film. Sometimes you find it really funny, sometimes it discusses themes that you identify with and thus is very important to you, and sometimes it’s so technically brilliant that you have to admire it. This, I enjoyed in a weird way, in a “I want this to be over now. I want to leave” way. I’ve watched quite a few films I’ve hated at the cinema, and I’ve stayed to the end. Even when I know the film isn’t going to get any better, I stay, the thought of leaving never really entering my head. But this? This I felt like leaving. It was so tense, so nauseating that there were times I wasn’t sure I could handle it. At one point I heard at least three people utter variations of “nope, fuck that” and leave. There are moments where you know they’re not going to die there because the film would be over very quickly, but you never get past that “oh fuck no” part of your brain. People are not supposed to dangle from a 2,000 foot tower by one hand so you can get a good picture! It goes against that evolutionary part of your brain that says “FFS don’t do that”.
This feeling of panic is helped by how well directed it is. Scott Mann did a fantastic job of making you feel the panic and terror the characters are going through. He frames everything in a way that you cannot help but be constantly reminded of the peril they’re in. Once they’re up the tower, everything feels real and you sense the height. A lot of films struggle with backgrounds like that, even in big-budget films like Captain Marvel the backgrounds look fake and 2-dimensional. Sadly the start of this has the same problem. It’s weird as the tower scenes look so good, but the moments when the three characters are climbing rocks at the start look quite fake. It’s a disappointing start to the movie and really gets it off on the wrong foot. After that, it picks up, and once the husband dies (spoilers) it improves a lot. Becky becomes an alcoholic recluse who lashes out at those who try to help. Grace Caroline Currey gives a superb performance as someone who is completely broken, and Virginia Gardner does too, but in a different way. There’s a mid-plot revelation that completely changes the dynamic between the two and they play it perfectly.
The revelation is one that you do see coming, I can’t imagine anybody being shocked by it when it is revealed. A part of me thinks this was deliberately obvious so it could set you up for another reveal later. It is so busy distracting you with one hand you don’t realise the other hand is stealing your wallet. It’s very smart storytelling, especially when you consider that the story is very simple. What this story does very well is set things up that pay off later. There’s a certain piece of dialogue which you think is a mistake (and one of the characters actually lampshades) but really it’s foreshadowing, so damn smart.
A lot of people will be put off by this film, and it is a difficult thing to sell to people without it sounding kind of boring. Yes, a lot of it is just two people on a surface the size of a small table. But it’s incredibly engrossing. I think part of this is because it has a longer set-up than usual, you know and like the characters. The audience sees what they’re like outside of this situation, so when they act out of character it actually means something. The opening is brilliantly paced because it kind of calms you down and puts you in a serene state of mind. It also means that the tower slowly breaking as the characters climb it is milked for every possible piece of tension. It’s like winding a jack-in-the-box toy, you’re just there waiting for it to pop up.
So in summary, this is one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had. A great film that will put you on the edge of your seat and you’ll be thrilled by. But you’ll never ever want to see it again.