High Tension


Cécile De France as Marie
Maïwenn Le Besco as Alex
Philippe Nahon as The Killer
Franck Khalfoun as Jimmy
Andrei Finti as Alex’s Father
Oana Pellea as Alex’s Mother
Marco Claudiu Pascu as Tom
Jean-Claude de Goros as Police Inspector
Bogdan Uritescu as Cop
Gabriel Spahiu as Man in his car

Style barely wins out over substance in this gruesome and rather mysogynistic knock-off of ’70s slasher flicks…and that’s even before it gets to its ridiculous twist.

Marie (Cécile de France) and Alex are two young women intent on spending a quiet weekend in the country with Alex’s family. When a brutal killer turns up and abducts Alex, slaughtering her family in the process, it’s up to Marie to save her friend before she becomes the killer’s next victim.

(Warning: This review mentions a number of sexual acts, so like the movie, it’s not advised to show it to your kids at bed time.)

The thought of watching a French film elicits visions of lush stories about love and/or sex, and in some ways, the latest import from France, Haute Tension, might be seen as more of the same. Except that there’s very little that might be deemed pretty, or even art, in this gory tale of violence that often tests the boundaries of bad taste. It’s all in the name of paying homage to a genre that was at its height years before director Alexandre Aja was born.

His grisly nightmare in which a depraved rapist serial killer slaughters a family all to show the ‘love’ he has for his latest victim, is the type of film that was the bread and butter of B-movie theatres back in the day, but thirty years later, the very idea of it just seems misplaced and wrong. Unlike other recent ’70s horror remakes, High Tension, as it’s been renamed in order to fool the patriotic horror fans boycotting all things French, doesn’t try to update the genre, and it’s certainly not trying to reinvent the wheel. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even really try to tell much of a story except that of a killer and his cat-and-mouse game with a potential victim.

The film starts out innocuous enough with the two friends arriving in the country, but after a gratuitous masturbation scene, the killer shows up and slaughters Alex’s family without a word of explanation. Apparently, he’s there for Alex. It’s not quite clear how he even knew about her presence there, since earlier in the film, when he’s stalking the family, she hasn’t even arrived yet. (The scene does allow for a rather sadistic sight gag involving the killer getting oral sex from a decapitated head. Get it?)

When Alex is taken into his truck, Marie follows behind, trying to keep an eye on the killer’s moves without being detected. It’s hard to believe that Marie is able to hide from the killer and avoid his grisly rampage, because to put it lightly, she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, at least not compared to the one she wields as protection. Although she is rather tough, the number of dumb moves she makes in the course of her chase is laughable.

Granted, you wouldn’t expect much character or plot development in this type of movie, but the simplicity of its violence and horror is taken to such an extreme that you never get a clear enough sense about Marie as a character to care whether she survives, and it’s even harder to root for her. Sure, the genre tends to create characters simply to act as fodder for slaughter by the killer, but it’s pretty obvious that Marie was meant to be a more developed heroine ala Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil.

The better slasher films sometimes off levity or comic relief to keep things somewhat palatable and entertaining amidst the gruesome killings. Bonafide classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween are the exception, as that never came close to a smile. Then again, Michael Myers didn’t rape and sodomize his female victims as this one does, and Aja shows very little interest in placating his audience by softening the gore and violence even for a second.

After an hour of watching people, mainly women, being violated in grisly ways, the movie throws in a twist so utterly ridiculous that it kills the last bit of credibility the movie had attained up until that point. After avoiding any semblance of depth, Aja tries to throw in a “clever” twist at the last minute that makes almost no sense at all. Just as the viewer gets used to the movie being this one singular thing, suddenly, it’s not. Any movie that attempts this sort of twist should be able to hold up to repeat viewings so that one can see how the clues build up to it. Instead of finding these, you’re likely to find all sorts of inconsistencies and things that make the twist impossible. It’s sloppy and careless storytelling, and ultimately, it’s deeply offensive to any intelligent horror fan.

That’s not to say that the movie is all bad. Cecile de France does a commendable job playing against type and creating various levels of fear and anger in what ultimately is a rather complex character. Also, Alexandro Aja does have a lot of obvious talent as a filmmaker. Despite my issues and the real problems with the plot, the movie does have a very stylish delivery with top-notch lighting, camerawork and sound effects that often overcomes the rather low-budget DIY nature of the film. Once you get past the premise, it’s actually a rather competent horror film full of suspense and tension, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Hollywood has already recruited Aja to direct the next in a long line of horror remakes, a movie that clearly influenced this one: Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes.

For whatever reason, Lions Gate decided to dub part of the movie into English, but the dubbing is so poorly done that it just distracts from what is being said. This is another choice that makes little sense, considering how much of the movie’s second half remains in subtitles, and it hurts more than it helps.

The Bottom Line:
Sure, some people may enjoy the roughly ninety minutes of slaughter and violence as a throwback to ‘70s exploitation flicks. Despite being a competent cinematic effort, as a concept, this movie is such an abomination with such an infuriating twist that some might feel that they were exploited out of 10 bucks.