Haute Tension (2003)
Starring Cecile (Around the World in 80 Days) De France, Maiwenn (The Fifth Element) Le Besco, Phillipe (Irreversible) Nahon
Directed by Alexandre Aja
The French are known for many things, some favorable and some not, but they certainly don't pop into your head as a country producing quality horror films…or do they? More and more good stuff is coming out of the country, and if movies like Haute Tension are any indication, they're only on their way up.
Yes, Haute Tension is a "slasher film", but only in the most basic sense. This is what had somewhat turned me off to it and kept my expectations low from the get-go, as a rule most slasher films suck. Sure it's been getting praise all over the place for months now, and was a huge hit at the recent Toronto Film Festival, but there was something about the premise that kept me wary, and it retrospect I guess that's probably a good thing.
The story is very simple; two college girls, Marie (De France) and Alex (Le Besco) take a trip out to Alex's parents house in the middle of nowhere for a week of nothing but studying. No boys, no parties, just book work so they can make it through the rest of college and get on with their lives. The night they arrive, a man (Nahon) driving a very strange looking truck (reminiscent of the Creeper's ride) pulls up to the front door, breaks into the house, and slaughters everyone but Alex, who is kept as a prize, and Marie, who is not discovered by the maniac because she spots his arrival before he spots her.
What follows is Marie's attempts to rescue her friend from the madman's clutches, and try and kill the bastard before he can destroy anyone else's lives. It's simple, straightforward tension (oddly, the French title translates in English to "High Voltage", I'm not too sure why) and it's done with skill and grace. The grainy, dark quality to it has nothing to do with a bad DVD transfer, this is the way it was shot…to make you feel dirty. In this country everyone's talking about going back to the way they made horror movies in the 70's, but this is the closest I've seen to it in a long time, with the possible exception of Wrong Turn.
The film builds and builds, never relenting to give the audience a moment to relax, be it with comedy or a nice slow scene, and in this you can tell first time director Aja knows what he's doing. It's a fantastic experience in terms of real "horror", something we just don't get enough of nowadays. Not once did I doubt a characters action in a situation, save for the gas station scene to a point, but it's one of those movies that doesn't treat the audience like a moron. Haute Tension works so well not only because of it's gritty violence and realism, but because the main character, the one we follow for the entire film, does pretty much what most of us would think to do in the same situation.
The violence, as pointed out earlier, is very unsympathetic to those of you with weaker stomachs, and for this it scores even higher. Though there are only a few real "kills", the way they're handled are enough to make even the Girlcreeture cringe a bit, and that's quite a feat for any film. There should an award for something like that. But it's done in the same way they did back in the old days, the camera not pulling away for a second until the terror is over, albeit only for the moment. We need more films with those kinds of balls.
Then you get to the end. As I'm sure you've heard before, there is a twist, and it most likely will do to you what it did to me...piss you off. Not that it's something that makes the movie unwatchable again, but it will probably make you question a lot of what came before it, which I guess is the point of movies with twist endings. Personally I think it could've done without the change and just finished off as it was going, but sometimes the only way you can make people take notice of your movie is to change things around at the last second and force them to think about it afterwards. Usually when there is a twist, I never see it coming and it makes the movie that much cooler for me upon retrospect. This one, however, did the exact opposite and almost tainted my memory of the preceding 80 some minutes. That is, until I watched it again. All I can say is that when I saw the movie the first time it was somewhat expected and thusly a bit hokey when it happened. The second time, however, if you pay very close attention at the beginning of the film, it makes sense and indeed almost works better. Don't get me wrong, I still believe it would've been just as effective, maybe more so, without the twist, but at least it makes a bit more sense the second time around.
Haute Tension is a very mean, very tense, very well done film that has a bit of an issue at the end, which I know can ruin the entire viewing experience for some. But if you're ready for it, maybe it won't be so annoying...or maybe you'll actually dig it more because of it. I still believe, though, that it's a movie that needs to be seen by all horror fans because it serves as a reminder of just how good a "slasher film" can be, and is hopefully the start of a new trend of films that don't pussy foot around their violence, but embrace it.
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