We’re only two full days into Fantastic Fest 2010 and already I’ve fielded the “what movies have you liked?” question at least 50 times. (That’s not a complaint; I never get tired of that question.) Since I was fortunate enough to see about 10 horror selections prior to even setting foot in Austin for this year’s festival, I’ve had a small handful of stock answers to toss out -- and the very cool French import Vertige (aka High Lane) has been high on that list.
Nobody is going to bend over backwards praising Vertige for its uniqueness or originality. Indeed I’ve been describing it precisely like this: “It’s a French version of Wrong Turn, only it takes place on a mountain and it’s very highly caffeinated.” And by that measure, Vertige is as unexpectedly entertaining as it is plainly beholden to several other suspense thrillers and horror flicks.
The plot is precisely what you’d expect: five plainly-drawn but colorfully realized young adults decide to go on a mountain climbing expedition, but when they arrive at the base of the mountain only to find the access ladder gone (and a sign saying CLOSED ROUTE) they decide to ... well they decide to climb the damn mountain anyway. The film then offers legitimate suspense and tension of the mountain-climbing variety, it sprinkles a few dark hints around the periphery, and then it turns into a tale about LESS than five young adults who must now avoid something on top of the mountain that’s extremely dangerous and plainly pissed off.
Directed with energy and confidence by first-timer Abel Ferry, Vertige doesn’t waste any time (or allow you to contemplate the fun but very basic plot) and actually manages to hit the ground running in several key sequences. The lovely yet foreboding setting plays a key role in the suspense and scares that quickly pop up because, let’s face it, you don’t have many escape options if you’re being stalked by something bloodthirsty while you’re dangling above a 3,000-foot drop.
So while Vertige is little more than a slightly jazzy and rather expeditious trip through ground covered in The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and countless others, there’s always something to be a said for a little new horror flick that polishes the essential conventions and delivers a good time.