Survival horror Fall (which is now on Netflix UK) sees two extreme sports enthusiasts climb up a 2000 foot tower in the middle of the desert and get stuck at the top. It’s high-concept in every sense as the two women teeter on a tiny ledge impossibly high up while the audience feel (pleasantly?) sick and anxious the whole time.
Fall is effective and efficient. The girls are likeable, capable and make good choices (other than climbing up a 2000 foot tower in the first place…). There’s real peril, enough back story to round the characters out, but ultimately it’s girls vs tower, with some pesky buzzards thrown in for good measure. This kind of survival horror – and by that in this instance we mean a film where characters are pitted against nature or a circumstance, rather than a person, or a supernatural entity – works viscerally when it’s done well. Fear of falling is innate even if you don’t have vertigo.
If you had fun with Fall here are some other survival horrors to keep you queasy, twitchy and on the edge of your seat.
No, not the ‘let it go’ one, instead this is a horror from Hatchet director Adam Green. In it, three friends on a skiing holiday persuade the lift operator to stay open to give them one last run before the resort closes for the weekend. But the operators switch and a misunderstanding means the three are trapped when the lift closes leaving them dangling in the freezing cold. Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell star in a movie that’s structured much like Fall. The friends learn early on that ‘let it go’ is not their best bet, but they’re going to have to do something to survive. Will the elements get them? How will they get down? And if they do, can they avoid the wolves circling below. Tense and chilly.
Open Water (2003)
This utterly nightmarish movie from 2003 is loosely based on a true story. A couple on a diving strip are left stranded in the ocean when their dive boat accidentally miscounts the passengers back in. In reality, no one knows what happened to the real couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan who were left behind on the Great Barrier Reef, but writer/director Chris Kentis and his producer wife Laura Lau imagine their fate.
Open Water is a singularly disturbing film, building slowly as we get to know the husband and wife divers, who will eventually be left in jellyfish- and shark-infested waters. It feels plausible and real. An excellent film you might not want to watch twice.
Less harrowing simply because it’s less good, this not-actual-sequel was released as Open Water 2 in some territories despite it having no connection to Open Water at all. It’s a German, English-language production from director Hans Horn, which, contrary to the poster, is not based on a true story.
To be fair, it does at least involve some open water. A group of friends take a yacht out for the weekend and all jump off into the sea without putting the ladder down, leaving them stuck in the water. It’s a similar format to Fall and Frozen, but unlike in those films where our protagonists use their best skills to attempt to survive, these chumps end up making very bad decisions. Not a hard recommend from us, then, but a possible watery palette cleanser after the original Open Water has destroyed you.
47 Meters Down (2017)
Another ocean-based one for your survival horror marathon. Johannes Roberts’ shark movie counts as survival horror (as opposed to just a creature feature) because of its premise. Two sisters go cage diving on holiday after one is dumped by her boyfriend. During the dive the winch breaks sending them to the bottom of the ocean (just under 50 meters…). They have a communication device that doesn’t work unless they swim up out of the cage. They have flares. They obtain a spear gun. And they are still in a cage which keeps them safe from the great white sharks surrounding them while they are inside. But they are quickly running out of air, and certainly don’t have enough to last them the hour it will take for the coast guard to arrive. It’s a great set up which has a very similar structure and formula to Fall (which isn’t that surprising since both were made by Tea Shop Productions) and unlike in many monster movies these sharks aren’t evil mega sharks, they are just sharks. Effective and satisfying.
More water-based antics, this time with alligators. Crawl sticks roughly to the same formula as Fall and 47 Meters Down. A resourceful girl with a special skill (she’s a really good swimmer), gets stuck in an impossible situation (in the crawl space of a house with her unconscious father) during a hurricane which has caused the house to flood and brought multiple alligators with it.
Kaya Skodelario is a game lead, with Barry Pepper sympathetic as her estranged father. The movie comes from Alexandre Aja who made Switchblade Romance and combines sufficient kills (incidental characters) from early on to keep this snappy (!), and like the best of this list there is real peril from start to finish. This is at the fun end of survival horror if you’re looking for pure thrills rather than phobias and anguish.
The Descent (2005)
This cult classic from Neil Marshall bends our survival horror rules slightly since the main antagonists are the Crawlers, which are fictional creatures so probably don’t count as ‘nature’, but the film is such a clear companion piece to Fall that we couldn’t leave it off the list. Like in Fall, The Descent features female friends with a love of extreme sports, one of whom has been bereaved a year earlier. These pals go spelunking and get trapped inside a massive series of caves where they encounter murderous blind creatures the Crawlers.
As well as certain plot beats in the two films being very similar (no spoilers), Fall and The Descent are almost inverse versions of each other. Though The Descent has the horrible claustrophobia of being lost deep underground in an enclosed space, and Fall sees its characters high in the sky able to see for miles, the girls in Fall are limited to one tiny platform. They can’t go anywhere. The sheer size and scale of the caves is the characters in The Descent’s problem. Would make for a perfect double bill with Fall.
This movie starring Ryan Reynolds also breaks our rules of ‘survival-horror’ in that the antagonist is a group of terrorists who have kidnapped his U.S truck driver working in Iraq and buried him alive. But the high concept and parameters make it spiritually similar to Fall.
Reynolds’ Paul Conroy wakes up in a coffin with a phone, a lighter, a pen, flashlight, pen knife and a flask of alcohol. He must use these items to find out what happened to him, to ‘negotiate’ with the terrorists and the State Department in the hope of escaping or getting rescued. Needless to say this is an incredibly claustrophobic and impressive English-language debut from director Rodrigo Cortés, who went on to make Red Lights with Robert De Niro. Also there’s a snake.
Fall is available to stream on Netflix UK now.