My love for foreign horror started back in 2003 when I rented the French thriller High Tension (AKA Haute Tension) with a girl I was dating at the time and dying to see if it would live up to the hype. I was taught one major thing from this gem and that was how boundary-less foreign horror could be. The explicit nature of the movie both revolted and intrigued me. American films wouldn’t have half of the contents that this movie possesses. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t need to read any further because clearly this guy loves this movie.” However, it does have its flaws and we will explore those as well. First, lets look at what works. (ads1]
High Tension follows two college girls who are going home for the holiday. Marie (Cecile De France) tags along with her best friend, Alexia (Maiwenn), so she doesn’t have to spend her vacation alone. During the first night of their visit, their home is invaded, Alexia’s family is murdered, she gets abducted, and Marie goes on a night-long chase trying to save her friend.
This film is incredibly suspenseful. In fact, if I were to make a top ten suspense-horror list, High Tension would be battling for one of the top two spots. The amount of nail biting I did should have left me fingerless. While directing this, Alexandre Aja must have known that this white-knuckled anxiety doesn’t originate in the tense scenes themselves. In fact, in order to pull off the suspense trick properly, you need to start at the very beginning. He lulled us into a false sense of security. We knew eventually the craziness would commence but the beginning was so calm and serene that we forgot about the inevitable “Oh Shit” sequences that were to come. Writers Aja and Gregory Levasseur also didn’t allow us to think that these characters were stupid either. There was a reason for every single action and that is why this film is so great.
After the home invasion sequence, some would wonder what would compel Marie to jump in the back of the killer’s vehicle to save Alexia. Wonder no longer! It is shown early on that Marie has a major crush on her best friend and is, in fact, in love with her. If you were in love with someone, wouldn’t you jump in to the fiery pits of Hell for them? Marie has multiple opportunities to get away but chooses to try to save her friend out of pure and simple love. That may not be enough for you to justify her decisions but that is why there is a twist. The twist, however, is a double edged sword. That is where we will get to what didn’t work.
Without giving anything away, which is quite difficult, the twist takes away from the rewatchability of this film. It explains away a lot of actions that Marie took that most of us might consider dumb, but it kills the suspense the second time around. The suspense is the life-blood of this film so that is a no-no. However, it does become quite the character piece in further viewings and that is why I love this movie. Trying to figure out how the twist fits in to everything you just witnessed is not only part of the battle, but part of the fun as well.
Halloween started my love affair with horror. High Tension took that love abroad and it was an amazing cruise. It was a no-holds barred take on the genre and that impressed the fuck out of me. It tested my horror boundaries – yes, horror lovers have boundaries – and made me want to check out more French horror. For anyone that is interested, my boundary is set firmly right before A Serbian Film. That film is disgusting and I couldn’t even finish it. This isn’t about that, though… this is about one of the greatest foreign suspense-horror films ever made. So, take your anxiety pills because this film lives up to its name. Enjoy High Tension!