High concept cinema, meaning movies premised on a single, simple, vivid idea, is really all about the setup, since the concept itself isn’t going to work unless the viewer is given some reason to care about it. In Scott Mann’s meditation on the dumber aspects of x-treme sports, the concept is two young women stuck at the top of a defunct 600-meter radio tower in the middle of the desert, which is a pretty weird place to be stuck, so Mann’s biggest challenge is getting the two women up there.
He does it through emotional manipulation, which is sort of a cheat. At the start of the film, Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) is almost a year into mourning her boyfriend, who died while the two of them were climbing the sheer rock face of a mountain. Becky’s best friend, Hunter (Virginia Gardner), also a free climber, tries to get Becky out of her funk in a decidedly extreme way, by compelling her to “kick fear in the dick” and scale something a bit more manageable—an abandoned radio tower—the idea being that the exhiliration of accomplishment will make her glad that she’s alive. It will also give them a chance to do something meaningful for her boyfriend, which is to spread his ashes when they get to the top. Becky eventually gives in to this odd idea and the two break into the empty compound where the tower is located and start to climb its ladderlike attachment—without, for some reason, noticing that the whole thing is weathered and rusty. Mann, of course, makes sure the viewer notices by occasionally flashing closeups of bolts coming loose during the ascent. At about the time they reach the top, the whole apparatus crumbles in a shower of metal parts and the two are trapped on a narrow platform where, naturally, the cell phone coverage is zilch.
The rest of the film shows how the pair struggles to survive without much food or water as they try to figure out a way to contact services on the ground with a fading battery while resisting high winds, vultures, and other affronts to their derring-do. Granted, Mann knows how to induce chills through skin-of-the-teeth acrobatics and shrewd editing—and his talent for narrative misdirection is formidable. I admit I was impressed by how he resolved the whole thing, but not enough to make me believe that anyone with the kind of native skills necessary to rock climb was going to be stupid enough to try this stunt.
Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905).
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