Five friends head off to the remote mountains for a day of climbing and adventure. When they reach the climb site, though, a large sign declares that it is closed and dangerous. Casting caution to the wind, they set out make the climb anyway. This turns out to be a huge mistake for the quintet climbing the “High Lane.”
Things start out with the five heading into the mountains for a little climbing and sightseeing and, maybe, a little excitement. Off the bat, they run into problems when the trail is shut down. Not to be denied his adrenalin rush, Fred (Nicolas Giraud) ignores the posted warning and sets off to make his climb. Against their better judgment, the rest follow, even afraid-of-heights Loic (Johan Libereau). There are a few snags on the climb up but they all make it to “The Gorge” where they must cross a rickety suspension footbridge. Things turn exciting, then deadly when they realize they are not alone in the wilderness.
“High Lane,” when the stranger rears his head, loses its edge as it falls into conventional monster-chasing-victims horror movie. Too bad since you actually begin to like, or at least side with, the tiny group in their fight for survival. Each show his/her character ranging from daring-do Fred to frightened Loic. The ladies, Chloe (Fanny Valette) and Karine (Maud Wyler), are strong, smart characters and William (Raphael Lenglet) is macho with his shaved pate.
I saw “High Lane” dubbed into English from the original French, something I usually abhor. Here, though, the dialog is so sparse and the dubbing well done that it is not an issue. Tyro director Abel Ferry keeps things fresh for the first half as the excitement and danger build. The story, by Johannes Bernard and Louis-Paul Deranges, wanders into routine horror territory when the monster, named Anton (Justin Blacker) begins his reign of terror using bear trap and cross bow to capture and kill his victims. The mad killer has been done better many times before, and better. I give it a C+.
Hot shot climber Fred (Nicolas Giraud, "Taken") and his girlfriend Karine (Maud Wyler) lead their recently traumatized friend Chloé (Fanny Valette, "Molière") and her ex-boyfriend Guillaume (Raphaël Lenglet) along with the newest member of the bunch, Chloé's new boyfriend Loïc (Johan Libéreau, "The Witnesses," "Stella"), into a closed passage in Croatia's Balkans to cross one of the highest passes in Europe in "High Lane."
Who knew back in 2003 when Alexandre Aja's surprisingly effective "Haute Tension" hit movie theaters that it would be the beginning of a French horror wave ("Calvaire," "Them," "Inside," "Frontier(s)"). "High Lane (Vertige)" was a recent IFC Midnight release now making its way to DVD that starts off well, largely due to some stunning camerawork by Nicolas Massart, then devolves into a ridiculous rehash of countless films like "Wrong Turn." Still, if you appreciate "Cliffhanger"-like thrills, "High Lane" initially delivers.
The film begins as many of this type do, with a carload of kids setting off on an adventure. Loïc seems very uncomfortable in the back seat with his girlfriend and her ex, but Karine's singalong to "We Are Young" perks him up. Unfortunately, about everything we're going to learn about these characters is established here and it's not much. Fred is an annoying hot shot, constantly advising everyone to 'just relax' and that 'it's all good.' Karine is the more touchy feely group morale leader. Guillaume is a bald domed tough guy versus Loïc's frailer sensitive type, who, it turns out, suffers from vertigo. This is a rather silly plot device to pit these two romantic rivals against each other, but screenwriters Johanne Bernard and Louis-Paul Desanges have even less believable notions up their sleeves in this department. Chloé is a stunner who spends most of her time comforting Loïc when she should never have brought him extreme mountain climbing in the first place. In the film's biggest head scratcher, she suffers from flashbacks to the event that has traumatized her, a muddle of losing a young male patient in a seemingly abandoned hospital.
When the group gets to the beginning of the trail, (points of which we learn are called Purgatory, Angel's Walk and Hell's something or other), they discover it is closed - shut off by a two story boulder! How'd someone move that there? It's also marked with what appears to be a gun sight, although no one notices that but the camera. Fred convinces them to simply climb over the boulder. This is obviously a bad move.
Director Abel Ferry builds some real tension as the group climbs up precariously placed metal rungs. The Angel Walk would make those even the slightest bit height challenged break into an immediate cold sweat - narrow boards suspended by wires between two cliff edges thousands of feet in the air. This is where the real trouble begins and from this point anything that can go wrong will. There's a pitched escalation of suspense here, which quickly abates once the human factor of the horror is introduced - Anton (Justin Blanckaert), some kind of crazed mountain man, hunts people and apparently causes them to lose any semblance of normal human reaction to highly unusual events.
And so "High Lane" completely falls apart, even in its end credits which state over 3,200 people have gone missing in this area, presumably all tracked down by cannibals or checked into the wrong hostel. Still, for a while there Massart's camerawork may have you wondering just how he got some of those incredible high wire shots.
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