Judge Daryl Loomis would never be caught dead anywhere close to a cliff this high.
If the fall doesn't kill you, something at the top will.
Excepting the fact that the above tagline implies that people fall up, High Lane is a surprisingly good horror number out of France. It promises high elevation action and delivers on it, but it's also a fun bit of péquenot horror, with Gallic rednecks doing what they do best: drinking wine and shooting crossbows.
Facts of the Case
Out on an extended getaway, five French rock climbing friends travel to a remote mountain ridge for a good tough day of adventure. When they arrive, the pass is closed, but in their arrogance, they decide to press on, certain they can beat whatever the government deems unsafe. But after surviving perilous terrain and harrowing near falls, they discover the real reason it was closed off: a psycho in coveralls making mincemeat out of travelers.
As somebody with a ridiculous fear of heights, the first half of High Lane scared me way more than the second. The ending is technically better horror, but the thought of crossing a suspension bridge, only to have it fail on you halfway through is pure confirmation of my biggest fears and something out of my worst dreams. Maybe that's why I hate Cliffhanger so much, but it adds an uncomfortable amount of spice to this French horror production. I'll take all the knives, axes, and masked psychos in the world, but a couple of shots down into ravines make me want to lose my lunch. Therefore, kudos to director Abel Ferry, who is able to tap into a very primal fear and, in his first feature film, make himself a director I want to watch.
Slickly produced with a gorgeous cast, High Lane is a great diversion. It's not a classic exercise in terror, but it gets the job done. As the film gets going, there's little to distinguish it as a horror film at all. Here, it has more in common with Cliffhanger than any genre film, but the taut direction, believable performances, and seriously sheer cliffs make this section a tense and effective thriller.
Once the horror makes its appearance, there's no mistaking it. The film takes a sharp left turn into slasher territory, but it does work nearly as well for the change. A little bit after the halfway mark, writers Johanne Bernard and Louis-Paul Desanges introduce a whole separate story out of nowhere. It's meant to surprise, but it's a lot to get used to before the quickly arriving violence. I was expecting a horror movie, so I shouldn't be surprised when that side of it comes down, but I had a hard time shifting gears. Really, though, the mayhem is pretty well done. It's nothing fancy: bear traps, crossbows, and the like. This redneck is no Jigsaw, that's for sure. Luckily for the story, Ferry comes around by the climax, recombining the rock climbing thrills with the slasher business to make a harrowing and ultimately satisfying conclusion.
As a first film, High Lane is great looking, efficiently made with good atmosphere and solid performances. The nature footage, apparently shot in Croatia, is beautiful and, as I've said, the perspective shots from the cliffs are vertigo-inducing nightmares. The cast is young, gorgeous, and not entirely hateable, so that's better than I can say for most domestic genre pictures today. There's enough characterization to give us something to hold onto, but not enough to stretch the less-experienced cast.
From MPI, on the IFC Midnight label, High Lane looks and sounds great. It's a bare bones disc, which is unfortunate, but at least the technical details are good. Shot almost exclusively outdoor, the scenery looks beautiful. It's crisp, clear, and detailed with good color and nice deep blacks. The surround mix is great, with echoes from the high cliffs and strong effects in the surround channels. The English dub track sounds is poorly done, so don't listen to it. Even if you hate subtitles, there isn't a lot of important dialog or big ideas, so don't be put off by the foreign origin; it sounds better that way. The only extra is a trailer.
The first half is definitely better than the second, but High Lane is a genre film I can easily recommend to genre fans. The landscape looks gorgeous, as do the stars, and those who can't take heights are in for an extra special little thrill.
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