High Lane (2009)

High Lane (Vertige)Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson

Starring Fanny Valette, Johan Libereau, Raphael Lenglet, Nicolas Giraud, Maud Wyler, and Justin Blanckaert

Directed by Abel Ferry

Fantastic Fest 2010 kicked off in grand fashion on Thursday night, September 23rd, at Austin’s Paramount Theater with star-studded screenings of Let Me In (review here) and Buried (review here), which featured a few lucky (?) getting buried alive so they could meet Ryan Reynolds. But on the smaller screens they had more going on. Way back in a corner at the Alamo Drafthouse, there showed a little French movie Vertige, known here in the States as High Lane.

High Line is a story about dumb people doing dumb things … and paying for it. A group of five French twenty-somethings go to Croatia on a rock-climbing expedition through the Alps. That right there is a horror movie recipe for disaster. Along for the ride is an ex-boyfriend and the girl’s current love interest, who happens to be afraid of heights. How they got him to even consider coming on such a trip is open for debate. When they find the intended route is closed due to dangerous conditions, the intrepid quintet decide to ignore the sign and go anyway. Obviously things go horribly wrong. As if that weren’t enough, they discover that someone’s been laying traps for anyone stupid enough to ignore the warning signs. What happens next is a remarkably intense ride that keeps the audience cringing on the edge of their seats.

To begin with, no one can watch High Lane without commenting on the scenery. It’s gorgeous and terrifying in the same breath. Incredible shots across gorges, breathtaking mountain ranges, and beautiful cinematography make this movie an eyeful. Of course, a camera view pointing straight down a ravine or sheer-drop cliff face can be beautiful while also making the viewer’s stomach drop out.

The pace is also well-timed. The opening scenes are a little slow, but that’s to be expected. The moment the group climb over and into the mountain range, the movie’s pace tightens like a cable until it reaches a breaking point. Witness the first real cringe-inducing scene in which a suspension bridge over a deep ravine begins to collapse while character Karine (Maud Wyler) is still on it. Every second is timed to drag each possible wince and clench from the audience in the most effective manner. From there the pace never lets up. It kicks the viewer in the pants and keeps kicking until the last blackout.

The actors all do fantastic jobs with their roles, delivering believable lines and palpable panic. Several of the characters reveal themselves to be unlikable while others show just how good a person can be. Their reactions come across as real and fevered and translate well to the audience. And speaking of things that translate well, the horrible injuries and deaths in this film will give the audience sympathy pains for a while.

Which is not to say High Lane is perfect. Were one to go into it with a nitpicking mindset, there are quite a few nits to pick. For example, there are several flashbacks that make absolutely no sense in reference to the film. Several of the characters, most notably competing boyfriends Loïc (Johan Libereau) and Guillaume (Raphael Lenglet), do things that make them unlikable to the audience. In fact, all of the guys in this movie are, in some way, reprehensible. Also, there are a great many unanswered questions about plot elements that, without spoiling the movie, can’t be brought up here. Suffice to say, they’re there, and a person might have to wait for the adrenaline rush to wear off before thinking of them.

The bottom line is simply this: High Lane is tense. It’s taut. It’s a nerve-ripping thriller with a dash of slasher thrown in for good measure. One audience member referred to it as “Wrong Turn done right.” Well spoken.

4 out of 5

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Scott A. Johnson

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