<strong>Vertige</strong> (Abel Ferry, 2009)
The first thirty minutes of <em>Vertige</em>, released in America as <em>High Lane</em>, are by far the movie's best and scariest. At that point, this is a very simple man vs. nature plot, in which Fred (<em>Taken</em>'s Nicolas Giraud), a climber who also seems to be one of those go-go-go self-help gurus, and his girlfriend Karine (<em>Low Life</em>'s Maud Wyler) take a trio of others for a climb on what, Fred tells us enthusiastically, is the highest, longest (read: most grueling) climb in Europe. We're told it's somewhere in Croatia, though I can't remember where for the life of me (it has been noted on the IMDB discussion boards that it is, in fact, an agglomeration of at least two different climb sites). You know this is going to go wrong when they see a sign saying in no uncertain terms the site is closed for repairs and Fred ignores it. Just to add to the doomy feeling is the fact that our other trio is all full of scary baggage: Karine's friend Chloe (<em>La Petite Jerusalem</em>'s Fanny Valette) is a doctor who just had something nasty happen to her at work, though what it was is only gradually revealed throughout the film. Along with her is old boyfriend Guillaume (<em>Les Bleus</em>' Raphael Lenglet), pretty much the epitome of the ruggedly-handsome athletic type, and geeky new boyfriend Loic (<em>Cold Showers</em>' Johan Libereau), who's pretty much the opposite. This is a movie that, given that premise, needs not one more thing other than good acting and a competent director to make it gripping.And for those first thirty minutes, that's exactly what you get, as Loic overestimates his endurance (and underestimates his fear of heights), the group encounter increasingly dangerous situations while thousands of feet in the air, and things in general spiral out of control.
Then you hit the half-hour mark, and the movie becomes, in essence, <em>The Ascent</em> with a strong flavor of <em>Deliverance</em>. At which point you know pretty much everything that's going to happen and stop caring about any of it. Okay, you probably can't predict some of the more idiotic character choices, but, you know.
Okay, maybe it's not that bad. (Yes, it is, but I'll play devil's advocate for a minute.) You've seen <em>The Descent</em>, you've seen <em>Wrong Turn</em>, you've seen <em>The Hills Have Eyes</em> (hopefully the original and not the hideous remake), you've seen <em>Deliverance</em>, you've seen a dozen or two other films like this, and if you've been following my reviews for at least a few years you've hopefully seen a smattering of really, really good French horror flicks while avoiding their bad ones. And then you come to <em>Vertige</em> and... well, I won't blame you if you actually do watch it, because that first half-hour is something else. But once you get to the point where the movie turns from man vs. nature thriller into dumb slasher flick, you'll start wondering, since you've seen all those other movies, why you're watching this, which is as cavalier in its borrowing from other movies as it is in its blending of climb sites. This is nothing new under the sun, Jack. **