He can't know anyone else is in the house! — Marie
I have learned many things from watching movies. From films like House of
1,000 Corpses and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I learned to never go
into the back woods. From Team America,
I learned that Freedom rings up at a buck o' five. From The Grudge and
Poltergeist, I learned to never mess with ghosts.
From Darkness and High
Tension, I have learned that American families should never move to Europe.
In each film, an unsuspecting family transplants themselves to the old country
— Spain in Darkness and France in High Tension — only
to meet a horrific, bloody end. So if you want to live, stay in the U.S. of
A. Just avoid the back woods.
Now, before I get into the meat of this movie, there is something I have to
mention. This is a foreign horror movie. If you're looking at me funny, here's
why this is important. Some of the most intense, graphic, hard hitting and brutal
horror films are not made in America. The collected works of Fulci or Argento
alone makes most American horror look like nursery rhymes. Don't get me wrong,
there are some great, no-holds-barred American horror directors (Romero, Hooper,
and a few others), but European horror doesn't feel the need to play by the
same rules as most American films. Things like the protagonist making it out
of the movie alive, or a happy ending, are not a given.
In High Tension, for example, the main character and her friend are
college students, but they aren't young pretty girls who look like they're barely
18 and fresh from a Cosmo cover shoot. They look like young women, and
act like them. Foreign films are also a lot looser on sexual restraint, which
is a fancy way for me to let you know there is sexual content. When you go see
this film, just know that the usual bets are off.
So here's the skinny: Marie (Cecile De France), a French college student, and
her American friend and co-student Alex (Maiwenn Le Besco), are making use of
a break to head to Alex's family's farm in rural France to study. From their
conversation, we can gather that the girls have partied a bit too much this
last semester, Alex a little more so than Marie, and they need to get their
grades back up.
Now when I say rural France, I mean very rural. Like having to take dirt roads
through cornfields to get to the place. In other words, the French back woods.
There are no close neighbors, and Alex mentions that when the family first moved
in, they had a little trouble from the local rednecks, but that everything's
OK now. Of course, now I'm trying to imagine hearing someone say "y'all ain't
from around here, are ya?" with a French accent.
Anyway, after that bit of set-up, we get our first glimpse of the villain,
who is only identified as Le Tueur (Philippe Nahon), or "The Killer" if your
French is a little rusty. This less-than-a-minute bit lets us know what we are
in for when he arrives at Alex's house. But it does not prepare you for exactly
how bad it's going to get for this poor doomed family.
So the two girls arrive, settle in and we get to know them and the family just
a little more before the plot kicks in. In the wee hours of the morning, Le
Tueur drives his big, scary panel truck (which is kind of similar to the scary
truck from Jeepers Creepers)
up to the house and starts ringing the bell. When dad comes down and answers
the door, the carnage starts. Marie, who was awake, sees this and hides. By
the time the killing is done, Le Tueur has kidnapped Alex and Marie has to try
and rescue her. The movie becomes a cat and mouse game between Marie and Le
At its heart, High Tension is a slasher film. A very good slasher film.
The movie is all about the tension of the duel between Marie and Le Tueur, as
they stalk and evade each other in various locations. The tension is maintained
by the fact that while Le Tueur is incredibly brutal and clever, Marie is desperate
and clever herself. Unlike her American slasher film heroines, Marie doesn't
just run, scream and hide. In fact, she never screams at all. She plans, sneaks
and does not consider herself helpless.
I will admit that some of the stalking and counter-stalking does go on a bit
long at times, but overall it strikes all the right notes. Then as we think
we're near the end of the story, the movie suddenly zigs when you were expecting
it to zag. This will either make you squeal in delight, or will drive you nuts.
I really dug it.
As I mentioned before, this is a European horror flick, so the violence and
gore is a bit graphic. Throats are slit; people are tortured, shot, hit with
an axe, and more. From what I have heard, the film was even more graphic in
the original release, and was heavily cut to get its hard R rating in the U.S.
Do not bring the kids to see this movie, and you can count on there being an
Unrated Director's cut DVD later this year. It is also partly in English, and
partly subtitled, which took me a minute to adapt to.
High Tension is an enjoyable horror/slasher movie if you like horror
films to surprise you. If you prefer your horror to have the standard "safe
zones," then this is not the movie for you.
And if you have seen it, and want to discuss the end with me, feel free to
drop a line to Subspace. I'm eager to hear what others thought.