High Tension October 17, 2016
Sure the tension’s high in Alexandre Aja’s twisted High Tension, but haute cinematic couture it ain’t — you’d be smarter excusing it as stylish Steve Miner fluff with a Brian De Palma-reminiscent ending. Except the ending doesn’t fly. While it’d be nice to hope for a slasher flick taut in all its subversions — it is, after all, part of the New French Extremity movement, its gory special effects credited to Lucio Fulci favorite Giannetto De Rossi — it’s merely a formulaic slasher feature complete with 1980s grindhouse level dubbing and, as mentioned before, a finale spotlighting such an idiotic twist that we’d balk at Aja’s thoughtlessness if the film weren’t so thoughtless to begin with.
But the cast is game, and we can thank them for ensuring that the movie stays ludicrous but always remains to be somewhat emotionally persuasive. High Tension respectively stars Cécile De France and Maïwenn (think French Madonna) as Marie and Alex, a pair of college students staying at the latter’s family’s countryside home to study for their upcoming finals. But only hours after they finish dinner is it determined that this weekend is going to imitate something straight out of Dario Argento’s gnarled psyche (or, better yet, directly plagiarize from Dean Koontz’s 1995 novel Intensity) — someone knocks on the front door in the wee hours of night that answers with a straight razor and a determination to kill everyone inside the house.
Except, of course, Marie and Alex, because keeping pretty things breathing is the only way we’d have any sort of thriller to begin with. Alex is bound, gagged, and thrown into the back of the madman’s crusty vehicle. Marie, on the flip side, narrowly escapes brutality by, if you can believe it, hiding under the bed in the guest room. Until she smartly follows the trucker from hell out the door and lands herself in the trunk, too.
But then she escapes — leaving Alex behind, as any friend would — and proceeds to land herself in situation after situation in which she could easily call for help but fucks everything up by letting her inexplicably bad temper get the best of her. Mind-numbingly insipid Marie is, but, alas, prolonging the film’s length is more important than letting their heroines survive to co-screenwriters Aja and Grégory Levasseur. The film’s protagonists have to be a little misguided in order for High Tension to reach the ninety minute mark.
The focused upon game of cat and mouse ends, infamously, on a note that defies anything we’ve come to know about logic, reality, possibility, or, heck, even physics, and deciding whether it’s an experimental or perhaps artistic conclusion is all a matter of how effective one believes High Tension is. I think the twist is uninspired, flimsy, and unabashedly dumb. But there’s no denying that the film has moments of palpable suspense: any time the killer’s intent on claiming Marie, the latter methodically hiding and doing everything she can to refrain from making any sort of noise to give herself away, is delectably tense.
But a few convincing components are not enough to render High Tension as anything but a messy, ugly slasher movie written and directed by a hack without the stylistic cues and nuance necessary to make a horror film that affects. I can admire gobsmackingly designed gore effects and steadfast performances any time I’d like. It’s my emotional palette that drives me, and High Tension is an attack on the eyes and not the senses. C-