[U.S. members] If you have been to the local multiplex in the recent past then its very likely that you've come across a particular preview before the feature. Im referring to the one which looks kind of gray and you immediately sense that its for a horror film. Soon, various images of a scared and battered female flash on the screen; you also see someone running out into the street in front of a car and later indignantly carrying a log ringed with barbed wire. That preview belongs to this much-hyped French horror/thriller called High Tension (Haute Tension) which has just been released stateside. The film begins on the road with two young college students, Marie (Ccile de France), and Alex (Mawenn Le Besco), traveling to latters remote countryside house in order to study for exams. Soon after reaching their destination, the house is invaded by a mad trucker in filthy overalls. His murderous rampage begins with the brutal murder of Alexs father along with his dog. Marie cunningly avoids the killer in her room, but soon has to listen to the rape of her friend, and as she eventually tries to get to the phone downstairs, she unfortunately ends up witnessing the gruesome slashing of the girlfriend of Alexs father. Once the killer moves out (to get to Alexs younger brother whos run out), she tries to unlock the bound Alex but the man comes back to get her in order to take her along. Somehow, avoiding the killers eye, Marie ends up in the truck with her friend, not being sure whats next for them.
So, that was the set-up of this gory horror almost certain to please all the blood-thirsty zombies out there and you already know if you are one! Director Alexandre Aja certainly has an eye for staging repulsive mayhem (is that a good thing?) as Ive never quite seen such brutality on screen before. (The version released in the U.S. is supposedly cut but to most this will look like a "director cut," not an "edited" one.) Whatever one might say about the film, it is technically accomplished. Aja wisely uses his widescreen compositions to rouse and unnerve the audience. The sound design is intricate, and while youre probably heard those squeaky hinges, barking dogs etc. theyve never been employed as well before (partly because of the nauseating images). Viewers who werent familiar with the film beforehand might feel something odd about the early conversation between the two friends -- its dubbed! Yup, thats right, and badly so I might add, but there are parts in the film that arent. (In order to accommodate this, films N. American distributor [Lions Gate Films] has converted Alexs family into Americans. If an individual is willing to do the political math then "Freedom Fries" might eventually come to mind, but in this case, I think the distributor deserves the benefit of the doubt.)
Ill be honest, the most "tense" moment for me was watching Ccile de France masturbate for a good couple of minutes before anything happened. But as she eventually races to save her friend in a souped-up car (American style), those moments were way behind me as she started to look a little mad herself. What did came to mind however was the stripped-down, no nonsense approach that American horror films of the 70s and 80s used to employ. (Aja has credited films like I Spit On Your Grave and most of Wes Craven 70s oeuvre as an influence.) In some ways, he seems to be throwing the gauntlet at the recent self-conscious horrors and spoofs while saying: Mock This! Im not quite sure why audiences worldwide enjoy films like this but what truly ruined the film for me was the final "twist" which came about 20-minutes before the end (thus more gore followed). The trick Aja and his screenwriters pull is cheap and misogynistic, but from the looks of things, theyve been successful in transporting the audience back in time, and in this case that's certainly not a good thing.