While the highest profile horror movie of the year so far (“Scream”) was another all-too-familiar ‘been there, done that’ experience, there have been some smaller films from the genre that have really hit their mark. First there was the crafty period chiller “The Wasteland” that’s out on Netflix (see my review HERE). And now you can add “The Free Fall” to that list, a sharp and savvy slice of psychological horror that keeps you guessing all the way up to its wallop of an ending.
A brief but really well done prologue begins with Sara (Andrea Londo) talking on the phone to her sister Julie (Elizabeth Cappuccino) about an upcoming party for their parents who are planning to renew their wedding vows. Julie drops the news that she’s too busy to make it, but sends some flowers in her stead. Her folks must be proud.
That evening Sara arrives at her parents’ home and finds the place empty. The front door is unlocked, the lights are on, and the table is immaculately set for dinner. Her calls for her parents go on answered so she eases upstairs where she makes a grisly discovery. In the bedroom she finds her mother draped in a blood-soaked wedding gown, repeatedly thrusting a knife into the chest of her dead father who lies on their bed. Her mother then walks towards her saying “Don’t be scared. Everything‘s going to be different now.” She then cuts her own throat in front of her traumatized daughter.
One scene later Sara wakes up in a strange bed in a strange house with a strange man. His name is Nick (a turtleneck clad Shawn Ashmore) and he reveals that he’s her husband. He hesitantly tells her the reason for her memory loss. It turns out Sara attempted suicide by slitting her wrists shortly after her parents died. She and Nick now live in her parents’ old home where he works on his new book while she rests and recovers. And while Nick pecks away on an old typewriter all day, their housekeeper Rose (an appropriately creepy Jane Badler) helps “looks after things”.
All of that sets the table for this slyly layered horror story. Adam Stilwell directs from a script by Kent Harper and the two make the most of their film’s lean 82 minute running time. They way they create atmosphere, their tone management, their use of Joseph Bishara’s haunting score – it all creates a level of immersion that’s essential to a story like this. And they do a good job of never tipping their hand. We question everything we see from Nick’s doting compassion to Sara’s reliability as a narrator. That level of mystery ensures the ending packs the punch it’s going for.
Perhaps the film’s biggest strength is Stilwell’s use of perspective. His keen ability to convey the confusion and fear in Sara’s head infuses his film with an ever-present sense of unease. The haunting chimes of a grandfather clock she hears that aren’t really there. Her terrifying dreams which are more like cryptic memories hiding fragments of truth. The conflicting voices that fill her mind and slowly intensify. The further we get into the movie, the more frightening (and at times downright macabre) these things get. Yet Stilwell always keeps us in Sara’s head.
“The Free Fall” remains engaging from its shocking opening right through to its big surprise finish which really highlights the movie’s cleverness. Hitchcock vibes run all through this crafty and at times deliciously bizarre feature while themes of trust, trauma, and mental health all simmer underneath the movie’s harrowing surface. I never knew where the story was going which (for me) was simply icing on the cake. “The Free Fall” is now available of VOD.