No, No, No, No, NON!!!
My reaction to the most disappointing twist ending ever. What
have you wrought, M. Night Shyamalan?!! This a
trend I am ready to see a moratorium imposed upon. In the newly
imported French film High Tension, an unfortunate twist
ending practically ruins what may have been the greatest slasher
The set up is simple: Two friends from school, one American, (Alex,
played by Le Besco) and one French (Marie; De
France) travel to the country home of Alex’s parents.
Though the film doesn't spend much time setting up their personalities
they come off as more convincing characters than the mindless hedonists
who populate the original slasher films, as well as their smug post-Scream
brethren in the ’90s. The very night they arrive a large,
swarthy truck driver descends on the house like a nightmare.
What is so effective about High Tension is that director
Alexandre Aja (who is helming a new remake of The
Hills Have Eyes) sustains the action in the house for an almost
excruciating amount of time. American slasher films are episodic,
they tease the audience, give them a variety of unlikely setups
where a masked ghoul is allowed to thrill the audience with gorey
showmanship. The American slasher films offer the cinematic equivalent
of a haunted house ride. One proceeds with certainty through a series
of effects that often evoke laughter as horror. The masks wore by
Jason and Michael Myers defuse tension, they let us know it's all
a show. In a typical American slasher film each scare, no matter
how nasty, is usually followed by a feeling of relief. High Tension
offers no relief. The trucker wears only a hat, and instead of some
mystical grudge, he's motivated by a depraved libido. This isn’t
a killer out of a dream, this one could be from tomorrow’s
headlines. The realism is astonishingly fresh and undeniably disturbing.
Yet despite this new approach, along with some characteristic
Gallic moments (an extended female masturbation scene), High
Tension retains many of the conventions of an American slasher
film. Marie proves to be a resourceful heroine after the intruder
breaks in, hiding around the house, desperately searching for some
way to save her friend Alex. When the intruder leaves, Marie follows
and we get more conventional slasher movie action. Car chases, a
cat and mouse game with the killer—all very standard, but
still very well done.
Then the filmmakers decide to pull a fast one on us. I won’t
go into the details of the twist ending, but let me say that besides
creating continuity errors, it transforms the film. Whereas I had
appreciated the realism of the movie earlier on and found the killer
frightfully believable, the new ending effectively masks the killer
and unnecessarily reminds us that it’s all just a movie.
What’s most depressing to think about is the idea that the
filmmakers may have lost their nerve. The slasher genre is about
the most disreputable outside the realms of porn and snuff. By adding
a modish gimmick ending to High Tension the filmmakers
have managed to position the film into more respectable territory,
but at the cost of a possible genre classic.
One note: Many of you purists will no doubt be appalled to see
that the sordid practice of dubbing still lives. High Tension
is half in French and half in dubbed English; for me it was distracting
at first but I wouldn’t say it ruins the film.