I fully expect that this review will serve as a ringing endorsement for some. Perhaps I am the wrong audience for a film like this, or perhaps I am over-analyzing. One thing is for sure, however. I’ve had more than a few bad nights of sleep because of this film. I haven’t said that in years.
Because of the well publicized (at least on the Internet) twist at the end of the film, I will keep the plot synopsis brief.
College friends Marie (De France) and Alex (Maiwenn) are headed to Alex’s remote farmhouse for a weekend of studying. Alex’s parents greet Marie with open arms, the two friends chat for a few, and then everyone retires for the night.
At some point in the night, an unsavory-looking stranger (Nahon) knocks on the door, kills Alex’s father, then proceeds to slaughter the rest of the family is shocking detail. That goes for the young boy and the dog. There is no taboo in this film. Alex is bound, gagged, and thrown in the back of the stranger’s rust-bucket of a van. Marie manages to sneak on undetected before the stranger leaves the premises.
More shocking violence follows, both at a near-deserted gas station and in the middle of the forest. Then comes the twist, and I will let it be there for those who either don’t know or actually want to see this film.
The performances help sell the material, as all involved are convincingly shocked, disturbed, and pale by the time this bloodbath ends. Philippe Nahon, who seems to have a serious penchant for being in the most disturbing films to come down the pike in recent years, delivers the most memorable performance as the near-mute killer. He is a gruff presence with seemingly heightened senses. A true killing machine.
Director Alexandre Aja is a great horror maestro. He’s clearly done his homework in terms of late 70’s/early 80’s horror depravity. Aja chooses creepy locations simply by existence, and exploits them further by putting some of the most graphic and unsettling violence of recent memory on screen. This is where High Tension trumps the Hollywood horror card. There is no comedic relief, no recognizable stars, and certainly no let-up. High Tension it is. And the average moviegoer who wanders in will most likely not be able to stomach the bloodletting found in High Tension.
But unfortunately Aja’s writing skills are on life support, and that becomes readily apparent during the film’s finale. After about eighty straight minutes of hacking, spraying blood, gruesome bystander murders, and the buzz of a circular saw, I was ready to pack it up, wait for morning, and wait for the chirp of birds and a ray of sunlight. But we were far from done. Aja tries to justify his on screen massacre by throwing in one of the incomprehensible twists I have ever seen. Not only is it absurd, it virtually nullifies the preceding eighty-five minutes. We think back on the film and chuckle at all the subtle hints, but how in the world did some of these events take place?
Oh well. I was never really into this film from the get-go. I can admire the directing skill of Aja (he was hand-picked by Wes Craven to direct the upcoming remake of The Hills Have Eyes after Craven saw this film), but the rest of it is very flimsy, especially when you actually think about it. Gore hounds will undoubtedly eat up these prolonged and cringe-inducing kills, but there’s not much else for the rest of us.
It should be noted that approximately one minute of footage was removed to attain a R rating here in the States. The film was originally given a NC-17 for violence by the MPAA, but this version grossed me out plenty. Regardless, editing films for rating purposes is not okay in my book, so I would have preferred that Lions Gate had released it as NC-17. If you wish to see the film uncut, the DVD can be imported from several online venders.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 91 Minutes
Rating: NC-17 for strong graphic violence. (Edited to R for U.S. theatrical release).
Theatrical Release: June 10, 2005
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur.
Cast: Cecile De France, Maiwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea