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High Tension
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Alexandre Aja (director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   June 10, 2005
Review Date:   June 13, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated 'R'
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

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 Tueur.

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.

RevolutionSF writer Gary Mitchel went to High Tension expecting Cheech and Chong and a circus tightrope. Boy was he wrong.

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