L’ascension et la mauvais tournant
A.k.a. High Lane
Director: Abel Ferry / Writers: Johanne Bernard, Louis-Paul Desanges, Ludovic du Clary / Cast: Fanny Valette, Raphael Lenglet, Johan Libereau, Nicolas Giraud, Maud Wyler, Justin Blanckaert.
Body Count: 7
Europe. Vast continent of a gazillion cultures, ever expanding (unless you’ve made a total fucking embarrassment of yourself by voting to leave it), and, for outsiders, possible home to assembly line killer hostels, schizophrenic lesbian maniacs, and invincible mountain men. Spoilers follow.
Vertigé, titled High Lane everywhere but its homeland of France, arrives looking like a combo of Cliffhanger, Wrong Turn, Wolf Creek, and The Descent. Only these kids climb rather than pot-hole, so technically The Ascent.
Set in the Croatian mountains (but filmed in the French Alps), we meet a quintet of thrill seekers: Fred and his girlfriend Karine, their friend Chloe and her new climbing-virgin boyfriend Loic, and the fifth wheel who turned up at the last minute, Chloe’s hunky ex Guillaume. Tension much?
They drive out to the Risnjak mountains, singing along to Supergrass, and find the trail is closed for maintenance, but decide to give it a go anyway. Loic’s vertigo almost gets the better of him, much to Guillaume’s amusement, but it’s not long before their problems get serious when the cable bridge they have to cross begins to disintegrate while Karine is still making her way over in some mini-Final Destination way. Once it completely falls away, they’re only choice is to go forward to reach a zip-wire that takes them back down.
Further along their route, they find the safety line has snapped and so Fred and Karine free-climb to the top to secure a rope, while Loic takes a tumble and has to be rescued by his nemesis. This is further thwarted when Fred walks into a bear trap and is dragged away by a mysterious off-screen figure.
As the daylight fades and Fred cannot be found, it becomes clear that they’re not alone when Chloe falls down a hole filled with stakes, and then Karine is shot with an arrow and dragged off into the night. The love triangle are forced to work together to find their missing friends and stumble upon a cabin where naked Fred is laid out on a table and some rare frontal male nudity is fleetingly thrown in – hey, this is France, home of the nude beach!
As all manner of backwoods films have taught us, entering ‘the terrible place’ only succeeds in meeting the killer close up: Brutal fights and double-crossings ensue, cowardice rears its ugly head, and people are tied up ready to be butchered, clued in by the number of decapitated heads found in the cellar.
Vertigé distinguishes itself by toying with character motivations as it goes on – nobody can be completely trusted and the predictable showdown between Chloe and the woodsman is satisfyingly raw as they beat the crap out each other vying for survival. Unfortunately, the intermittent flashbacks to the-bad-thing-that-haunts-her result in a twist you can see coming as soon as she hobbles away from the scene. It’s kinda amusing in a dark way, but undermines the quality of the film until this point by clunking in that ol’ devil that forever plagues the genre – stupid decision making.
Euro-slashers tend to impress me due to the general extra effort that appears to go into the art of the filmmaking itself: Beautiful scenery, characters not so cut n’ dried that you’re able to assign numbers as to their probable order of demise, and clichés that appear more innocent beyond American shores, because the genre is not as culturally ingrained.
Vertigé is no exception to this: It’s a tour of everything we’ve seen before over and over, but comes with a cultural freshness often absent in cynical US box-ticking exports (where self-proclaimed genre fans cry like babies if there’s not enough T&A), possibly due to that mountain air.