Despite awesome early action and slow-building tension, High Lane ends up muddled and clichéd. Newcomer director Abel Ferry grabs a couple of obvious elements, one old and one new, and doesn't do much to doctor them up. Even unvarnished, Ferry's can't fail first half works marvelously, but when things ultimately devolve into chaotic cliché, only the undiscriminating, and those new to horror, will remain tuned in.
Not much new going on at the start: a group of young adults are on the road, on their way to an outdoor adventure. (If I need to explain why young adults in the great outdoors isn't the most original horror movie opener, then you need to head back to Horror Movies 101.) What's worse, their insular world has already been pierced by an interloper - an old boyfriend of one of the girls. He's uninvited, unpredictable, and he has drugs. And yes, we've seen it all before. Ferry then throws caution to the wind, staging a nerve-racking, cringe-inducing climbing sequence that will have acrophobia sufferers sweating. You'll rarely go wrong showing folks clinging desperately to a precipice.
Not one to shirk his duties, Ferry guides our crew from bad to worse. Already-in-place climbing guides and cables are rusty and coming loose, plus one of the climbers seems to be terrified of heights. And just when it seems like things can't get any worse, it becomes clear that if our heroes can complete their climb, a killing force awaits them. Yep, High Lane is The Descent on a cliff! (I guess naming the movie The Ascent would have been too obvious.) On a good day High Lane might look like a pure distillation of the climax from Deliverance; city folk fighting off inbred creeps while trying not to fall 200 feet to their deaths.
Sadly, the artifice falls apart, because after the butt-clenching beginning, High Lane quickly devolves into a difficult-to-track, standard 'freaks in the woods' horror movie, with the angry villain chasing his victims through the woods, delivered to us via near-incomprehensible chase and fight sequences. Shots are exceedingly dark, the camera shakes like a mofo, edits come fast and furious, and eventually you don't care, because you simply can't tell what's going on. For what it's worth, what's going on isn't anything too new. Our creepy cannibal lives in the woods and he's decorated his hovel with totemic travesties. What is new is Killer's level of inchoate rage, characterized by vein-popping screams and spastic movements that closely mimic the 'rage zombies' of 28 Days Later. Seriously, this freak has anger management issues and a bunch of moves culled from the WWE, and it all serves to pull us straight out of the movie.
The resultant mess from all this rage won't satisfy anyone who's been watching this type of stuff for more than a few months. While Ferry's done much right, including assembling a gorgeous and competent cast, (excepting the namby-pamby dude who looks and acts like a girl) the director (and writers) traffic in too many clichés, while cranking the frenzy to something far beyond coherence. Old ideas can be made new again - humans have been doing it for tens of thousands of years - but they can also be relied on too heavily, and messed up with a whole grip of 21st century frenzy, rendering fool-proof concepts pretty foolish indeed.