The newest horror film to come from (you guessed it) France, Alexandre Aja’s ‘70s inspired slasher fest was clearly born from grisly, esteemed influences. You’ll see Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left even Duel in this suspenseful blood feast. And for those of us who appreciate such things—you’ll really feel the grindhouse exploitation factor moreso than US Chainsaw Massacre knock-offs. High Tension is incredibly gory (and not with irony), disturbing and at times, sickly scary. And to place it firmly in the tradition of ‘70s drive-in fare—it’s dubbed.
With a story that’s almost too simple, High Tension takes two female friends/law students Marie (Cécile de France|) and Alex (Maïwenn) as they drive to Alex’s parents farm house in the desolate French countryside. On their very first night, the girl’s endure a horror that’s almost incomprehensible—a deranged psychopath (played by Phillipe Nahon the star of Gaspar Noe’s brilliant I Stand Alone) breaks into the house and one by one, kills the entire family. The picture doesn’t miss one bloody beat as we witness decapitations, throat slashing and a shooting (a little boy no less). The crazy man binds the terrified Alex and takes her hostage in his Jeepers Creepers-like van.
Meanwhile Marie, who’s managed to escape his detection, sneaks into the van with her friend in attempts to save her. The film follows Marie’s pursuit with the killer—from her taking a gas station attendant’s muscle car, to a grotesque show-down in the woods.
But again, that twist. We’re not going to reveal it here but let’s just say, up until this point it’s unnecessary and lazily “surprising.” We certainly don’t see it coming but that doesn’t remove the annoying effect it provokes (not to mention, it will most likely offend politically correct viewers—though that’s not the real problem). Up until this point the film is wonderfully shot, effectively dark and interestingly acted (even while dubbed). It could have almost been something—a taut little horror thriller and the right example of how to borrow from the best. Instead the clearly talented Aja opts to borrow his ending not from Tobe Hooper| but from M. Night Shyamalan, or rather, a second rate M. Night Shyamalan. We’ll see how he fares with his real inspiration—Wes Craven as he’s set to re-make The Hills Have Eyes. Let’s hope it's straight, no twist.
"High Tension" opens today, June 10.