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‘Fall’: Sweaty palms and a bad screenplay at 2,000 feet

Thriller about two young women stranded atop a TV tower is vertigo-inducing but dumb

Grace Caroline Currey, left, and Virginia Gardner in “Fall.” (Lionsgate)
(2 stars)

If sweaty palms were the sole measure of a film’s greatness, then the thriller “Fall,” which centers on two young women stranded atop a rickety, decommissioned, 2,000-foot-tall TV tower in the middle of nowhere — on a platform not much wider than a cafe table for two — may be some kind of masterpiece. And while the dialogue is pretty spartan, including many iterations of “Are you okay?” and “It’s okay,” punctuated by periodic swearwords, the cinematography is suitably, almost sweepingly acrophobic.

Maybe that’s the wrong word. Acrophobia is the irrational fear of heights, and the terror deliberately instilled in the audience over the course of an hour and 45 minutes or so by director Scott Mann (“Final Score”), reuniting with his frequent co-screenwriter Jonathan Frank, makes perfect sense. Who in their right mind would climb such a thing?

Well, Hunter (Virginia Gardner) would. She’s a professional daredevil who goes by the nickname Danger D on social media, where she has monetized her amateur drone videos and selfies, shot under hair-raising circumstances, into a career of sorts. For her latest misadventure, Hunter recruits her best friend Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) as a way of helping Becky overcome her devastation at the death of Becky’s husband in a mountain climbing accident one year ago. (The film opens with this tragic prologue, so Becky’s trauma — magnified by the idiocy of Hunter’s plan — feels vividly appropriate.)

Hunter and Becky are supposed to be expert climbers, tuned into their surroundings with the heightened awareness of true athletes. But as they’re mounting this death trap, they seem not to notice all the rusted, rattling rivets that are about to come loose from the ladder they’re ascending — and that in one instance do come lose, tumbling past Becky’s head. Miguel López Ximénez de Olaso (the cinematographer known professionally as MacGregor) certainly does pay attention to those details, in a way that makes “Fall” feel like a hyper-coaster of a movie: It ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree, before releasing it in a torrent of nausea and nerves.

Lots of people pay good money to endure the kinds of thrill rides that make them wish they were back on solid ground. “Fall” does the same thing, but with the added benefit of being entirely vicarious. Just keep telling yourself: “It’s only a stupid movie.”

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains bloody images, intense peril and strong language. 107 minutes.