HIGH TENSION (HAUTE TENSION) (2004)
This French horror film brought director/writer Alexandre Aja to the attention of horror movie fans and an impressive first impression it is. Hight Tension or Haute Tension in it’s native French is a gruesome and intense slasher flick set during one long night of terror for two young women Marie (Cécile de France) and Alex (Maïwenn Besco) who are pursued by a mysterious and vicious killer. The film opens with the two young girls heading out to Alex’s parents’ (Andrei Finti and Oana Pellea) secluded farmhouse in the French countryside. We already know something is amiss as we cut to the family’s home and see an old beat up truck watching the house from a distance and the occupant (Philippe Nahon) seems to be getting oral sex from a woman but, it actually turns out to be a severed head which he discards when done. Once the girls arrive and settle in, the vehicle and it’s ill-intending driver returns in the dead of night and sends them on a journey into terror and murder that no one may survive. Alexandre Aja crafts a very intense and brutal thriller with some very graphic and effective kills. True to it’s name, there are moments of very intense action and suspense to go along with some very effective gore. Aja knows how to build scares and can shock even jaded horror fans with his explosions of gruesome violence. His visual style adds some nice atmosphere to it all, aided by Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography and he also gives us a horrifying juggernaut in his stocky and sadistic killer. His villain is an effective character despite not knowing much about him. All we know is he is up to murderous no-good and in blood drenched and merciless fashion. The enigma of this human monster adds a nice air of mystery to the proceedings and makes his apparently random attack all the more disturbing. The film is not perfect, Alex’s parents and little brother Tom (Marco Claudiu Pascu) are given little or no character development so, they do appear no more then simple fodder for our killer and despite the horrible things that occur to them it’s hard to be all that empathetic without a better glimpse into who they are. The script by Aja and Grégory Levasseur gives us a disturbing twist in it’s last act that, I will admit, I did not see coming but, once it is revealed, it does pose just as many questions as it answers. But, what came before is a really intense horror and even after, it remains effective, even though taking us in a different direction, and still has dramatic impact, so, we can cut Aja a little slack for trying to throw us a curve. All in all Haute Tension is a vicious and intense horror and even with it’s flaws it is still an impressive debut from the man whose re-imaginings of the horror classics The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha were equally impressive and entertaining. Also has an appearance by Maniac remake director Franck Khalfoun as a gas station convenience store clerk who gets the wrong customer.
3 straight razors!