Film Reviews

HIGH TENSION

By • Jun 10th, 2005 •

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QUOTE: Simply terrifying. A lesson in undiluted shock.

The plot twist at the end will make this review short on story summary, but here goes – to a point.Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) is taking her school friendMarie (Cécile De France) to her parents isolated, rambling country house. Spying Alex showering, Marie starts masturbating. No sooner has Marie finished up when a fat, monstrous killer (Philippe Nahon) arrives in a burnt-out mini-van and knocks on the door. He brutally slashes Alex’s father to death. In the attic guest bedroom, Marie gets up and hears the carnage. She is pretty smart! She cleverly erases all traces of her presence and slips under the quickly made bed.

Alex’s mother gets it next as Marie hides near her in the closet. Blood splashes through the slats covering Marie but shields her from the killer’s view. Alex’s young brother runs out of the house into the fields. Marie watches as the killer follows the boy with a rifle. This is the type of killer who studies family photos checks every detail. I was impressed. Marie finds that Alex is tied up with chains and there is some sort of S&M instrument stuck in her mouth. She can only weep in horror. Marie promises she will rescue her. The killer returns and takes Alex into his bloodied van. Marie gets inside and the killer takes off.

We have reached the first hill of a roller coaster ride of horror. We are headed for the first loop.

Comparing HIGH TENSION to a roller coaster ride is apt. This thing never lets up. It just gets scarier as it plows to a sudden halt. What the hell just happened?

Perhaps a second viewing would help in figuring out some of the out-of-bounds logic. Where did that damn van come from? And the chainsaw? And the photos of the other girls. Shouldn’t Marie have telegraphed her psycho-sexual predilections a tad earlier? Do some of these things make sense on a repeat viewing? I hope so, but who cares? The director, Alexandre Aja, knows how to stunningly build tension and creepy, heart-pumping fear. The scares are potent. If this is what you want from a thriller, here it is brilliantly done.

I wanted to see HIGH TENSION so badly I went to the UA Showcase on the Las Vegas Strip, where you must pay for parking and watch the movie in a “vintage” theater (there was a big head in front of me. You would think The Strip would have state-of-the-art theaters with stadium seating.) Will HIGH TENSION provoke outrage over the sexual content? Of course, but, the standard victims of slasher/horror movies are always women. Alex and Marie must be the ones in grave peril. And the identity of the killer only satisfies as an imaginative twist, not a letdown.

I dismiss the sexual politics here – a critic responded angrily at the screening I attended to the killer’s motive – since all horror movies are sexist. Aja who co-wrote the script with Gregory Levassuer) builds such shock and dread that HIGH TENSION deserves viewing, even if it is partially subtitled. Trapped in a van headed towards the killer’s lair, who wants dialogue?

With HIGH TENSION, the French have trumped the Japanese in this specific genre.

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