Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #769
Also known as Vertige
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 24, 2009
Sub-Genre: Backwoods Slasher
Country of Origin: France
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: Abel Ferry
Producers: Alain Benguigui, Thomas Verhaeghe
Screenplay: Johanne Bernard, Louis-Paul Desanges
Special Effects: Frédéric Lainé
Visual Effects: Lolet Ong
Cinematography: Nicolas Massart
Score: Jean-Pierre Taieb
Editing: Soline Guyonneau
Studios: Gaumont, Sombrero Films, Studio Mad
Distributors: IFC Midnight, Gaumont
Stars: Fanny Valette, Johan Libéreau, Nicolas Giraud, Raphaël Lenglet, Maud Wyler, Justin Blanckaert, Guilhem Simon
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Supergrass “Alright”
 Jean-Pierre Taieb “Vertige”
noun: a person with a compulsive desire for excitement and adventure.
I’ve never been what you would call an adrenaline junkie, at least where great heights are concerned. It’s certainly easy enough to see the appeal as the “fight or flight” moment when your body senses incoming peril causes a number of bodily reactions, all of which combine to provide a feeling of euphoria unobtainable through regular pursuits. However, outside of a lifelong desire to embark on a parachute jump which I have no idea why appeals so, I fear my weary ticker couldn’t take the excitement. Hats off to the likes of Tom Cruise and others who positively live for the thrill and continually push themselves further in search of that all-important rush, but I’m more than content to keep my feet firmly planted on terra firma thank you very much and the film I’m about to wax lyrical about has done nothing to change that particular viewpoint.
French director Abel Ferry’s debut full-length feature High Lane (known as Vertige in its native country) introduces us to one such group of thrill-seekers as they journey to a Balkan mountain range in Croatia for a hiking expedition. Of the five daring twentysomethings, only one is an experienced climber. Fred (Nicolas Giraud: Taken) leads the way while his girlfriend Karine (Maud Wyler) and their friends Chloé (Fanny Valette), Guillaume (Raphaël Lenglet), and Loïc (Johan Libéreau) place their faith in his expertise to keep them out of harm’s way. The group arrive at their destination to find their starting point closed off by rocks and, under Fred’s questionable guidance, decide to ignore a sign which quite clearly states that the path ahead is unsafe. Will these kids never learn?
Evidently not as one brisk pep talk later and they’re scaling the heights, regardless of the fact that Loïc doesn’t appear at all comfortable with the decision. Pretty much from the offset, Nicolas Massart’s luxurious cinematography takes centre stage, giving us a gloriously expansive viewpoint of their upward hike and reminding us of every hazard they are about to face quite brilliantly. In a similar manner to Neil Marshall’s spelunking classic The Descent, the environment is the group’s chief enemy for the opening half hour as they move from one precarious scenario to the next, barely letting up for a solitary second so we can catch our breath. From a dangerously rickety suspension bridge to a closed-off vertical cliff trail, certain death is only ever one false step away and Ferry ensures that our asses remain soundly clenched throughout their ominous ascension.
It is around the midway point that the tone begins to shift dramatically and this is where High Lane may lose some of its target audience. You see, while their exertions up until this point have been supremely well documented and captured, Ferry moves into far more familiar territory by introducing a secondary threat lurking in this mountain range. From hereon in we are firmly in backwoods slasher territory although, to the film’s credit, it upholds a sense of mystery for as long as is humanly possible as, one by one the group come a cropper. We’re talking poacher’s traps ranging from hidden bear traps to disguised spike-laden pits in addition to the unseen threat taking pot shots at the survivors with a crossbow and suddenly every hazard they have faced until now appears little more than a mild distraction.
We are eventually introduced to grisly mountain man Anton (Justin Blanckaert), the usual inbred type who lives in a cabin tucked away in the woods and lavishes it with numerous human trophies and animal pelts he has collected over the years. All of the good work that has preceded it soon becomes a distant memory as we spend the remainder of the film going through the motions with precious little in the way of surprises or deviation from the norm. That said, pressure cooker tension is certainly not lacking as the remaining survivors struggle to overcome this fresh threat and the pace barely lets up for a solitary second as allegiances are tested and priorities start to change. In addition, Anton is nothing if not enthusiastic in his approach, and decidedly vocal as he sizes up his opponents and looks to finish what he started.
Our investment is now dependent on how much we have taken to the group in question and thankfully they’re a pretty likeable bunch for the most part. However, there is little to no fleshing out of the characters and only Chloé appears to have any notable backstory. Through the occasional flashback, we are informed that she was previously a nurse and has been struggling to come to terms with the death of a young patient under her care. Other than that and a little tension between Guillaume and Loïc, who both have designs on Chloé, our only reasons to care are the performances of our babes in the woods and, to their credit, each of them meet their brief decidedly well. Given its French origin, much will depend on whether or not we obtain the subtitled or voiced over version as the English dub is pretty wretched if truth be known. Pleasingly, the version currently streaming on Netflix is the former.
If it appears as though I’m being a little harsh on High Lane then let me assure you that the brisk 82 minute running time rarely sags and it manages to hold our attention decidedly well throughout. The problem here is that we have likely seen movies of its ilk many times before and it brings nothing particularly fresh to the table. The opening thirty minutes or so is so beautifully shot and staged that we cannot help but feel a little cheated as it moves into more run-of-the-mill territory and it would have been interesting to see what Ferry would have done had he elected to remain with the man vs. nature theme of the first act as he undeniably shows a flair for breathless set-pieces and it can never quite live up to its early premise. Nevertheless, it reinforces my belief that my hiking boots are far better situated on solid ground and, for that, job’s pretty much a good ‘un.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Due to its limited numbers, there isn’t a massive deal of splatter on the platter here although there’s more than enough violence on exhibit for those looking to get their kicks that way. Anton’s dingy cabin is decked out with decapitated heads and other body parts, while his approach to hunting his quarry is nothing if not committed and culminates in a couple of decent gory thrills. Meanwhile, there may be nothing in the way of skin, but Valette sure is easy on the eye and her low-cut top appears to drop a couple of notches with every revelation.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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