(Premiere Date: June 18, 2003 [France])
(US Release Date: June 10, 2005)
In the case of Haute Tension (High Tension) I remember immediately thinking "Oh, I get it!". Unfortunately, this time I wasn't wrong, and I pretty well nailed it like the prey of a ball peen! Be this as it may, even if I had conclusive knowledge (not just a guess) of what the film was all about, I'd have watched it anyway.
I mean, let's face facts, every year in the United States another of the many, many remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre debuts to misguided ticket sales. Much of the time in a horror movie (particularly a slasher flick) we already know what's going to happen… we're in the seats to see how it's pulled off. We know it's the same big band of inbred hicks just waiting in the woods for the forlorn college kids to serve as their proverbial din-din.
In this way High Tension is more than worth watching. While in many ways this is purely just another slasher film (albeit a stylistic French slasher film), in other respects this is a super-suspenseful and surprising inversion of the traditional Freddy, Jason and Michael movies out there. That is, unless you've already figured out the ending.
Two French College hotties, Marie, the practical dreamer (played by Cécile De France) and Alexia, the wild-child party girl (played by Maïwenn Le Besco) travel to Alexia's parents' homestead located in a part of France so Rural it makes "Bum Fuck Egypt" look like Manhattan! Naturally this puts them both at risk of the proverbial inbred hicks of the sticks, here actually referred to as "Rednecks".
Everyone settles in, Alexia showers, Marie has a cigarette (then masturbates) and all is right with the world, especially Marie's world. This girl could be bounded in a nutshell, and count herself a queen of infinite space, were it not that she has bad dreams. Unfortunately she's fast awakened from them with a start as a big nasty man in a big nasty plumbing truck (so freaky it makes the Creeper's truck from Jeepers Creepers look like your mom's Buick Le Sabre) shows up, steps into the house and proves himself to be the very red neck to worry about by pulling a Ronnie DeFeo on each member of the forlorn family. That is with the exception of "Alex" (as she's called), whom "The Killer" (Philippe Nahon) wants to keep for himself, and Marie, whom "Le Tueur" ("The Killer") doesn't even seem to realize is in the house.
What follows is a brutal cat-and-mouse game as Marie fights her fear and races desperately to save her dear (and hot) petite amie, while the Killer is happy to go about his usual routine with Alexia chained up in the back of his freaky truck. However, the only real weapon she has against the Killer is that he doesn't know she's there. When the Cliché of the hunter becoming the hunted rolls around, we find our lady doing some very un-Marie-like things in response.
High Tension is definitely exciting and the suspense might scare the hell out of you. If that doesn't get you, the non-stop blood, gore, dismemberment, beheadings and impalements just might. There are a lot of convincing death-effects to be seen here (and the film is made better, or worse depending on your tastes, by their realism), but luckily they're held aloft by a great story (written by Grégory Levasseur and Alexandre Aja, who also directed). It's a safe bet that this will be a treat for fans of the Horror Genre and the Slasher sub-category specifically. And yes, there are enough twists and turns to braid the Coif of Crystal Gayle.
However, there are a lot of things in Haute Tension that feel as if they're designed to coast based on looks alone like a cheerleader taking a final from a lecherous math teacher. This is exacerbated slightly by the (still quite satisfying) surprise, twist ending. There might even be a time or two that you'll break out your Movie Calculator, figure in as many of the reviewed scenes as you can possibly remember then look up to heaven and scream at volume 11, "IT JUST DON'T ADD UP!!!" It's hard to say just how or why this feels almost excusable. Possibly the style and substance of the rest of the film, possibly because we're distracted by shooting geysers of blood, or possibly because the American Corollaries to Haute Tension are guilty of this sort of "Ah, screw it! Because I Said So!" logic all the time. Any way you slice it, High Tension is highly tense.
Three and one half stars out of Five for High Tension (Haute Tension). In some areas Haute Tension was released as Switchblade Romance, which really sounds more like an INXS album but it works. In a film this smart, even at its most violently gory, one might expect a little more in certain areas, however, make no mistake, for the horror fan who can handle subtitles, this is a must see. It's great to see a slasher pic that's a little off the beaten path. And it's great to see that mother of all Chainsaws, baby! Damn! This makes Leatherface's Chainsaw look like an electric toothbrush! The carpenter in me just freaked! I could fight some Zombies with THAT bad boy, I tell ya what. But you'll have to wait for the next reel for that. See you there.
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