High Tension Movie Review by Retro


High: Being at or near the peak
Tension: Mental, emotional, or nervous strain

Possibly one of the most appropriate film titles of all time, High Tension doesn't fail to deliver exactly that.

Marie and her best friend Alex are visiting Alex's family homestead in the secluded countryside. In a terrifying and unprovoked attack, Alex's entire family is murdered, and she finds herself hog-tied in the back of the killers van. Marie witnesses the carnage while avoiding the killers detection. Now she is the only one that can save Alex.

The words "French fim" and "slasher" are two that one would rarely associate with each other. As the inventors of cinema however, who better than they to bring a fresh light to the genre. It's been a long time since a horror film has had any kind of impact on me, years of desensitisation, and the poor efforts of a tightly censored Hollywood industry had given me little hope that I would once again be able to feel something other than boredom. High Tension, on the other hand, kept me in various states of shock and agitation, I think I kept a hand tightly over my mouth, which frequently changed from clenched teeth to jaw agape through almost the entire film.

Director Alexandre Aja does a masterful job of knowing when to hold back, and when to let go. Let me say this though, when let go, this film really let's go. All the murders bar one(that of Alex's younger brother, who must be less than 10 years of age) are ferocious in their extremity, accompanied by liberal amounts of the red red kroovy, blood flows like claret in High Tension. It doesn't waste time either, the family is killed within the first fifteen minutes, leaving the remaining sixty minutes filled with a nervous ride in the back of the killers van, a missed opportunity for freedom at a gas station, a road chase and, of course, a bracing climax. And what's a French film without a twist, for once, it's a twist that I did not see coming. It also left me with almost as many questions as it answered, but I won't spoil it here.

The score, or more appropriatly, soundscape is worth mentioning as it is notably effective in mainting a nervous edge. Consisting of the pck, pck akin to the motion tracker in Alien, a pulsing swoosh like the internal flow of blood, and a screech like a rusty swing moving back and forth, it kept me in distress during the quiter moments, mostly when Marie was avoiding detection at the house and at the gas station.

There are some obvious references, or "homage" to some well known horror films. The killer drives a truck not disimilar to that of Jeepers Creepers, and there is a brief Duel/Jeepers Creepers moment between the killer and Marie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre features prominently in one scene, albeit the killer wields a buzz saw not a chain saw. And there's a nod to Halloween as well, Marie hiding in a closet while the mother is murdered before her eyes.(I was told about this one, I'm unsure myself)

Such is the resonance of this film, that when I got back to my quiet suburban home in the middle of the night, an unknown noise that must have been a frog or some sort of nocturnal bird, but sounded as if it could be man made, freaked me out so much I made a hasty move for the front door.
To end on a lighter note, there is one laugh to be had, in about the first five minutes you will have a new definition for the phrase "getting head"
The original French title is Haute Tension, of which High Tension(USA title) is a literal translation. For the rest of the world the international English title is Switchblade Romance.

Review by Retro

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