High Lane

cast: Fanny Valette, Raphaël Lenglet, Maud Tyler, Johan Libéreau, and Nicolas Giraud

director: Abel Ferry

81 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Mark West

High Lane

Five college friends – Chloé (Fanny Valette), Karine (Maud Tyler), Fred (Nicolas Giraud), Guillame (Raphaël Lenglet), and Loïc (I assume it’s supposed to be Luke) played by Johan Libéreau – are going on a hiking/ climbing holiday in the Balkans. Fred has organised the trip and hadn’t intended for Guillame to come along – he and Chloe were an item in the past, which apparently ended badly and now Chloé is with Loïc. They park up and start their trek, but things start to go wrong and this culminates in Fred having his leg almost sliced off in a bear trap.

High Lane (aka: Vertige) is very much a film of two halves, so I’ll approach the review in the same spirit.

Overall, this is a good film. The quintet are likeable characters, even when they’re squabbling with each other and the acting is of a pretty high standard.

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The locations have obviously been carefully chosen, the framing is very good and the tension is ratcheted up superbly, with a deft touch by director Abel Ferry.

The climbing sequences are all real heart-in-the-mouth pieces and at first I wondered if they chose climbers who could act, or vice versa, because if this is green screen work, then it’s of terrific quality. In fact, apart from a couple of shots right at the end, it doesn’t look like any kind of digital work has taken place though, I would suggest, it must have done. The first major set piece has the gang crossing a bridge that we, the audience, know isn’t going to last but it’s played out beautifully, maintaining the suspense, whilst never pandering to easy scares or pointless cutaways to pad out the time.

In fact, if the film had stayed with this theme – gang of climbers get trapped, have to get down off mountain – it would have worked. Which makes the next part a real bone of contention and the viewer is either going to embrace it (which I did, however begrudgingly) or dismiss it. You see, after Fred goes on ahead (because he knew the pass they were using was closed); he steps into a bear trap and then disappears. Then Chloé falls into a poacher’s pit that looks suspiciously human-sized and things take a turn for the murderous cannibal-on-the-loose-in-the-wilds worse.

In general, I didn’t have a problem with it – like I said – but this about-turn doesn’t happen until well over the halfway mark (and it’s not a long film) and there is an argument to be had that it should have been introduced earlier. Having said that, Ferry and the cast do make it work – the fear is almost palpable, the film still doesn’t fall back on easy scares and the tension keeps on ratcheting up until the final confrontation on a mountain-top between the three remaining heroes and Anton, the bad man from the woods.

I liked the film a great deal – it had a lot of heart, it was very well made, it was superbly paced and directed with real flair and imagination. Of the cast, Chloé was probably the stand-out but everyone (including Justin Blankaert as Anton) did a superb job and you felt as if you really got to know the characters. It doesn’t make things easy for itself – Chloé keeps having flashbacks to an incident in a hospital (she’s a doctor), but they’re never explained – and until the final title card, you don’t even know why Anton is there. The final card also seems to contradict what we, the audience, have already seen play out, which adds another layer to the enjoyment.

Another nice touch is that ‘their song’, from college, is Alright by Supergrass and it’s amusing to watch a car full of French people singing along, in perfect English, to a quintessentially English song. As with Mutants, if you don’t like subtitled films (and there’s considerably more dialogue in this than its zombie counterpart – which come from the same Mad Films studio, with Mutants director David Morlet being thanked in the end credits of this), then this isn’t going to be for you (and if you don’t have a head for heights, with some of the vertiginous camera angles used, you might not like it either). But if you don’t mind subtitles, you’ll be rewarded with a tense, terse horror film that delivers every punch it says it will.

The only extra on my screener copy was a trailer, which managed to give away most of the key points (including the ending), and cut the various climbing sequences together to create completely different situations.