Even without saddling him with the Ayn Rand epic-worthy name of Thaddeus Gault, as soon as we see that the man embodying the far-too-smooth, selfishly shady CEO at the heart of Free Fall is none other than iconic screen villain Malcolm McDowell, we know right from the start that he’ll be the one calling all the shots of the suspense that should – by all rights – follow.
Unfortunately Fall’s screenwriter and editor in particular don’t seem to have the same faith in the viewers (or the movie’s every-woman heroine Jane Porter played by I Spit on Your Grave actress Sarah Butler) that we initially had in them.
Rather than build upon that unsettling wave of terror established in the span of a handful of frames as a body lands on top of a car in the opening sequence, the filmmakers slow the action down to a crawl and leave it there for roughly twenty minutes.
And while there’s a great film to be found in Free Fall – the one that made it to the final cut of this recently released Anchor Bay Blu-ray isn’t it.
Spending entirely too much of the film’s ever-critical first act slowly connecting the John Grisham Firm-like dots of the corporation’s evil practices from fraud to the fatally forced retirement plans for professionals unwilling to look the other way (such as Jane’s recently deceased mentor), Free Fall misgauges the strengths of what should’ve simply been a Red Eye, Panic Room, or P2 style thriller.
Instead of watching Jane try to make it out of her workplace alive after she finds herself trapped in an elevator based game of chicken with D.B. Sweeney’s crisis management executive (aka Gault’s hired hitman), Free Fall inspires yawns and apathy with dull office posturing and politics early on.
Likewise, following the cat-and-mouse excitement that arises once Sweeney reveals his true intentions, Free Fall goes against the genre tradition of empowering women to try and save themselves. All but giving up on the heroine once she hits the elevator, the filmmakers bring in a likable but wholly unnecessary new character for the awkward final half without bothering to fully flesh out either role.
While McDowell’s casting as Thaddeus Gault is a bit too on the nose, it’s interesting for Cutting Edge star Sweeney (who intriguingly once brought the character of Rand’s John Galt to cinematic life in an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged) to be given the role of the heavy even if the script offers him very little to do.
Not realizing that the thing that makes movies like P2 and Panic Room work so well is their sense of “you are here” visceral urgency that makes us imagine what we’d do if we were all in our heroine’s place, while the actors all give it their best shot, unfortunately the film never manages to ignite a single spark.
To its credit however, it is helped along by a few glimmering flickers from Jonathan Hall’s gorgeously crisp and nicely contrasted wood and steel toned cinematography to a few tense moments of man vs. man or Jane vs. ruthless businessmen action, which do their damndest to distract us from the otherwise wooden script.
While Free Fall manages to hold your interest as an inefficient yet nonetheless ambitious workmanlike yarn in desperate need of a rewrite, overall you’re much better off selecting one of those other – not quite real-time but all-in-one-night – vastly superior reality driven horror stories.
An inauspicious directorial effort from Halloween franchise producer Malek Akkad that’s filled with clumsy gaps in logic (from an endless bullet supply to a head-scratcher of a reference to a character we’ve never met in a pivotal scene), Free Fall sets itself up to be a great source of elevator based horror but ultimately it's as trapped as our heroine is with no chance of easy escape.
Having been stuck in an elevator in real life (with a nine month pregnant woman during a power outage no less), I can certainly attest that the emotionally charged setting is ripe for horror before you even add to it.
Nonetheless, the vantage point of a young woman playing chicken with a corporate hitman from a panic room-like steel cage trapped between two floors is far more thrilling than any CSPAN worthy paradigm… regardless of its villain’s last name.
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