High Tension (2003) / Horror-Thriller
aka Haute Tension
aka Switchblade Romance
MPAA Rated: NC-17 for strong graphic violence, strong sexuality and language (there is also an R-rated cut)
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Cecile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea, Marco Claudiu Pascu
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur
At first I questioned the decision to release the French horror flick, High Tension, in the United States dubbed instead of subtitled, as most foreign language films released here would be. After watching the film, the reason is all too clear. Many people in the film's target audience probably can't read. Writer-director Alexandre Aja (Break of Dawn, Furia) probably hopes they all can't think or see through ridiculous gaping plot holes either, because High Tension is nothing more than scene after scene of sensationalism, followed by a completely needless (and vastly overused) twist that makes an already moronic, highly derivative movie abysmally absurd.
Some of the audience who have seen the film that actually can read are claiming that High Tension is an out-and-out rip-off of the Dean R. Koontz novel, "Intensity". I'm not a big Koontz fan, so I've never read it, but the constant comparisons by those who have merit listening to. Both this movie and Koontz's book feature a woman who goes out to a farmhouse to stay as a guest, only to be visited be a crazed, sadistic killer. The heroine of the piece can do little but listen and watch as the killer commits some of the most horrific acts imaginable, until finally, he comes after her.
Even without the rumors of possible plagiarism on Aja's part, High Tension is derivative of so many other films in the horror genre, it will most likely be called a throwback film rather than a new direction in the genre. It hearkens back to the late Seventies/early Eighties slasher films, when gore, slaughter and nonsensical mayhem reigned supreme, offering little more than to see a stoic and merciless killer chop down frightened people one by one for reasons that are never readily explained. Explanations only make these sorts of films fall apart anyway, as they have no logical core to begin with. They are conceived as nothing but excuses to show grisly murders in graphic ways, mostly to please those who only watch horror for visceral images of flesh sliced open or blood splattering on walls and floors. As bad as High Tension may be, it only gets really bad when Aja makes the mistake of trying to explain the film in the end, and he only succeeds in making it infinitely more confusing.
Ultimately, High Tension seemed to me like little more than a retread of Joy Ride (which in itself was a retread of Duel), with its omniscient, nearly omnipotent killer who seems to have more fun toying with his prey, except with a much higher bloodiness quotient. While it may please the splatterhouse enthusiasts, its success is just another symptom of what's wrong with horror movies of today -- they are nothing but formulaic gore fests that press buttons of titillation and sensationalism to get by in place of storytelling, character development, or the semblance of logic or ingenuity. While gore-hounds will no doubt see this multiple times to sate their blood-orgy urges, all I can do was to laugh at how silly, stupid, and boring it is, with characters that have no depth and situations that defy any explanation. High Tension is confusing, revolting, ridiculous, and in the end, it just made me angry. Insulting, on many levels.
-- Reader mail: Mitchel Gomes writes: "In your review of "High Tension" you indicated viewers referred to the film's relationship to the Dean R. Koontz novel "Intensity." They should have gone one step further, i.e., the first part of the film up to the gas station/convenience store sequence was apparently lifted from the two-part television production of "Intensity" (1997, based on the Dean R. Koontz novel and starring John C. McGinley). I was surprised when no mention was made of this in the "special features" section of the DVD, but I guess they figured if Kurosawa and Leone can do it, well . . ."
©2005 Vince Leo