“What goes down, must come up” is the pitch behind “High Lane,” a taut French chiller that swaps the spelunkers of “The Descent” for a group of reckless mountain climbers. Musicvid/commercials helmer Abel Ferry’s debut feature reaches dizzying heights of suspense early on but eventually plateaus into lots of generic butchering. June 24 release soaked up mild interest in Gaul; offshore, “High Lane” will likely take the fast lane to ancillary, with some Hollywood revamp potential.
New couple Chloe (Fanny Valette) and Loic (Johan Libereau) are on a hiking/climbing trip in Croatia with their adventurous pals, Guillaume (Raphael Lenglet) and Karine (Maud Wyler). All seems well at first — apart, that is, from Loic’s paralyzing acrophobia, Guillaume’s numbskull plan to follow an abandoned trail and the addition of an unwanted fifth wheel, Fred (Nicolas Giraud), who happens to be Chloe’s ex-b.f. and wants to win her back at all costs.
The group’s explosive tension is effectively captured from the start by d.p. Nicolas Massart’s sporty, stomach-churning camerawork. It quickly reaches death-defying levels when the kids try to cross a suspension bridge that seriously needs a safety inspection.
Soon afterward, one of them gets nabbed in a bear trap, and another in a spike-laden pit — all the work of a sadistic mountain killer with the culturally apt name of Anton (Justin Blanckaert). From then on, dripping makeup f/x take over, while the bizarre love triangle pitting Guillaume against Fred endures until the final standoff.
Writers Johanne Bernard and Louis-Paul Desanges (“Mutants,” also shot by Massart) provide some interesting twists in the earlier stages and offer some late surprises involving Guillaume’s fits of envy. But their handling of Anton is far from inventive, with little explanation offered beyond the fact that such characters could only exist in a place like Croatia. (The film was actually shot entirely in the French Alps and Pyrenees.)
Ferry’s maneuvering of the action, especially in the mountain climbing scenes performed by the actors themselves, reveals a knack for storyboarding sequences into moments of condensed, throbbing anxiety. He’s less creative when it comes to the gore, which is neither humorous nor shocking: Anton’s lair resembles a rustic version of every torture chamber since Leatherface’s kitchen.
The young actors ride the wave of horrors with adequate intensity. Libereau (“Cold Showers”) is particularly convincing as a jealous fusspot headed for a comeuppance.