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HIGH TENSION (R) (2005)

Lions Gate Films

Official Site

Director: Alexandre Aja

Producers: Alexandre Arcady, Robert Benmussa

Written by: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur

Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun

Rating:


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 film ever.

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.

—Edward Rholes

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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