The audience is almost immediately under pressure as we are introduced to Becky (Grace Caroline Curry, credited here as Grace Fulton) through a traumatic flashback. She was once an avid mountaineer, but her passion was tested when her husband Dan (Mason Gooding) died after falling to his death in a mountain climbing accident. Exactly 51 weeks later, Becky resorts to unhealthy ways to cope with her injury until the sudden return of her best friend and budding climber Hunter (Virginia Gardener) seeks to end it all. Hunter is an extreme sports vlogger with thousands of followers on social media. She wants Becky to overcome her newfound fear by taking on her biggest challenge: climbing a 2,000-foot radio tower in the middle of the desert. One of her persuasive arguments is that up there, she will finally be able to scatter Dan’s ashes so that he can actually make the last ascent and be remembered for doing what he loved.
From the outset, Mann (who co-wrote the screenplay with regular collaborator Jonathan Frank) realizes how ridiculous this is – it seems like entire episodes are designed to get viewers to start criticizing the characters’ bad choices on screen. One of his master strokes is the characterization of Hunter, knowing that in order for Becky to function as a surrogate for an audience thrown into an improbable life or death situation, her best friend must be an absolute nightmare to be around. Gardener succeeds in this task, skillfully playing a character who does not understand how much she manipulates her inconvenient friend into following her. It is thanks to her performance that the film manages to sell the ridiculous prospect that anyone in their right mind will climb this tower; when you play on your vulnerable friend’s emotions so nonchalantly, it only makes sense that they would abandon all logic to follow you upstairs.
The film is at its best during this initial climb to the top, when Mann lingers on every detail that can cause a wave of unease, creating a notoriously dark comic effect. Even if you don’t have a fear of heights, seeing the stairs sway or the screws loosen as they go up, all the while we hear the narrative that they reached the height of the Eiffel Tower halfway, can leave you confused. to a nervous fit of giggling. There’s nothing surprising about what’s to come next, and the director uses it to great effect; any tension is replaced by lingering fear, which is represented here by the jet-black humor of the gallows.