Thursday, March 19, 2009

High Tension (2005)

After seeing Alexandre Aja's Mirrors, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put myself through High Tension, a French film originally released in 2003 as Haute Tension, but, having seen Aja's brilliant remake of The Hills Have Eyes, I took the chance and reaped the rewards. As the name entails, high tension is definitely achieved through the proficient use of camerawork, lighting, and sound.

Everything from the labored breathing of the killer to the French version of the Jeepers Creepers truck works to intensify feelings of dread. In some scenes, you can almost feel the characters' sweat, tears, and heartbeats as your own.

Usually, I don't read other reviews before writing my own, but I was so elated by this movie, curiosity got the better of me. Expecting to read high praises, I was distraught to find that this film didn't do so well here in the U.S., but for reasons that were either pesky or that proved naiveté. Suggestion: Immediately stop reading a review if it complains about bad dubbing on a foreign film. WATCH THE FILM IN ITS NATIVE LANGUAGE AND USE SUBS! Why wouldn't you do that? This ensures that you get the original audio track, capturing the characters' true emotions.

I loved how tense this movie felt, especially throughout the murders in the house; the sound effects perfectly captured the grittiness of the gore. I'm not sure what the R-rated version cuts out, but the Unrated version has a graphic scene where the father's head is wedged in between two stairway posts and then decapitated with a bookshelf. Aja starts there and then continues to teach a lesson in gore.

* Deadly Spoilers Ahead *

The main problem people had with the film was its so-called impossible twist. I, too, questioned a few things and ended up watching some of the movie over again, which answered all of my questions. So, I'm guessing that the people who feel the plot is too far-fetched either (a) didn't watch the movie a second time, (b) absolutely hated Identity, (c) have no imagination, or (d) all of the above. Like Identity, some of the movie takes place inside the actual antagonist's mind. The first scene I questioned when the twist hit the screen, was the very beginning when the "guy" is using the severed head and then tosses it on the ground. I thought, now how would that be possible if Marie was in the car with Alex? Re-watching the scene, I found the answer. Marie wakes up just after it happens, and the head is not on the ground anymore once they reach the path. This was risky in keeping the twist safe, but I just figured he came back and disposed of it.

Of the people who get the split personality mechanism, some still question why the murderous personality was male. I think this is blatantly pointed out with Marie's lesbianism and obsession with Alex, who is heterosexual.

Not only did the twist warp my mind, it explained all of the problems I had with the movie initially. It seemed too far-fetched that Marie kept escaping the killer as she did. Specifically, I was appalled that Aja would really think it was believable when Marie wiped the sink to make it look like no one had been there, and then the killer went directly to checking the sink. In another scene, we find that Marie has not checked the gun for bullets. After the whole sink cene, I felt that Marie was too meticulous to have not checked the gun first, but, like I said, the twist allowed me to scratch these items off of my "far-fetched" list.

Even with the big twist out in the open, Aja still delivers one brutal finale. In my opinion, the whole sequence of Marie's split personality taunting Alex while she's trapped in the innocent guy's car is the most intense scene in the movie. The image of Alex's face being splattered with blood, while Marie/split personality saws through the windshield and into the innocent drivers abdomen, will live with me forever.

If you are one of the people who feels the twist was impossible, please re-watch the movie and then send me your thoughts. Also, you might want to go into the Special Features and listen to the director's commentary. If you still feel cheated/insulted, I question the reason you watch horror movies. High Tension does exactly what we want a horror movie to do: toy with us; surprise us; manipulate us; give us something we can enjoy a second time around.

High Tension expels predictability through fresh plot twists and then blows the minds of its audience.

Review Soundtrack
Don Caballero - "I'm Goofballs For Bozzo Jazz"
All That Remains - "Two Weeks"
Norma Jean - "Vipers, Snakes, and Actors"
Opeth - "Bleak"
Between the Buried and Me - "Camilla Rhodes"
Phish - "Meat"
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  1. Completely and fully agree with your remarks man, I watched the flick months before the American release came out in French with no subs, so thankfully the film is primarily a visual experience but anyone that comments on the subs being out of sink is no horror fan. Its brutal and extremely fun, with unexpected gore and an amazing, adrenaline pumping soundtrack. I reproach the film (now with subs) about once a year, love it!

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, too. What a great movie!

    And really, how could you possibly synch French and English flawlessly?

  3. I have to admit that I am among those who felt that the ending of this movie cheapened the experience, but I sill think it is a highly effective film, and definitely put Aja on the map. Another detraction for me is the very obvious influence of the story and shots used in the mini-series adaptation of Dean Koontz's Intensity. I can't believe that suit was never brought against Aja and the producers for obviously ripping off large chunks of that film. Still, High Tension is a lot of fun and a great ride.

  4. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Bo - I was wondering who would be the first to bring up the similarities to the Koontz novel. I decided to leave that out of my review in order to elude a whole new tangent. If you've read my About page or the Books I've Read page's comments, you know that I detest Koontz as a writer and so-called master of suspense, thrills, horror.

    My thoughts on the topic: It's amazing how liberally Aja took from the book up until the twist, but Koontz should thank Aja for transforming his dense book into something extraordinary.

  5. Hmm - I'm somewhere in the middle with this debate. I loved the movie all the way until the end - but I still think of the film with fondness (I just pretend the ending didn't happen). That throat cutting scene still makes me cringe.

    As for the male personality, I have problems with that - it's problematic in itself that people excuse it by equating her lesbianism with maleness - a classic misinterpretation of lesbian sexuality. In fact, the film is clearly equating the two, and therein lies the problem, I think.

    Regardless, I appreciate everything else in the movie - I just wonder why they couldn't simply make it a great horror movie - they didn't need the twist, in my opinion.

  6. Gore-Gore Girl - Thank you for your thoughts.

    Fully agree with you in that they could've left the twist out and it would've been an outstanding movie. Even before the twist happened, I was sold on the movie.

    As for the lesbianism, I would certainly be guilty of misinterpreting it out of honest ignorance--perhaps that's Aja's excuse as well!

    Now, without further ado, I must start Demons!

  7. This film is one of my all-time favorites!

    [I saw it in the theatre, on opening day, and when the credits rolled, I looked back to see everyone's jaws hanging open - there was no movement for at least two minutes] ;-)

    Excellent review Chris!

  8. thebonebreaker - I'm watching this one again this weekend with a first-timer. Looking forward to their reaction.

    Thanks for the comment!

  9. Great movie one of my top picks this movie really opened me up to the French Horror scene all around great movie I hope Alexandre Aja hits a couple more home runs with his movie great director

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