Director Alexandre Aja’s High Tension recalls the classic slasher films from the ‘70s.
Thursday, June 9, 2005
Gory European gothic horror doesn’t come any grittier and
weirder than it does when a couple of would-be lesbian college
girlfriends retreat to a weekend at the secluded farmhouse of
one of their parents to study for their final exams. A local
deranged psychokiller pays a nocturnal visit to the house and
imposes a bloody terror spree that has Marie (Cecile de
France) chasing the madman to rescue her friend Alex (Maiwenn
Nahon), who sits as a shackled hostage in the back of his van.
A mix of English language dubbing and French subtitles adds to
the charm of director Alexandre Aja’s homage to slasher films
of the ‘70s, namely The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
HIGH TENSION ( * * * ½ )
Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Starring Phillipe Nahon, Maiwenn Nahon and Cecile de France.
(R, 91 mins.) At the Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.
High Tension takes on a more feral aspect, like that of James Wan’s Saw. But 24-year-old French director Alexandre Aja (1999’s Furia) is a far more adept filmmaker than Wan. From its disorienting opening scenes to its Fight Club-styled plot twist ending, High Tension rattles and bounces off of the understated lesbian relationship between Marie and Alex to anchor the depraved madness onscreen.
The movie starts off with a nightmare that Marie is having while riding in the backseat of Alex’s car on their way through the empty French countryside to Alex’s parents’ house. In the imagined ordeal, Marie is running cut, bruised and sullied from an unseen menace through a dense forest. When she wakes, Marie tells Alex how she experienced the nightmare from the perspective of both the attacker and the victim. The girls briefly bitch about their study plans for the weekend, and a subtext of unresolved sexual feelings permeates as the scene closes with the friends singing along with the radio to a Euro pop song.
After a brief introduction to a greasy middle-aged necrophile (Philippe Nahon) who spends a lot of time in his traveling torture chamber of a van, the movie quickly takes off to loftier altitudes of horror and suspense. Alex introduces Marie to her mom, dad and baby brother before heading off to bed, but Marie hardly seems at home in the cozy surroundings. A knock at the door later and Alex’s dad is having his head sheared off with a piece of furniture by the local psychokiller as he dispatches the family but not the girls.
Marie’s bold desperation to rescue her friend from the claws of the demented killer puts fire on the narrative because she has to constantly deposit herself in proximity to the madman. But it also tauntingly associates Marie with the maniac because she repeatedly attends Alex’s bondage to reassure her.
There’s a lightly burnished look to High Tension that’s supported by a perfectly eerie musical score by Francois Eudes. The movie was filmed in Romania, and the merited creepiness of the place permeates every frame. High Tension is a formula horror picture that culminates with an oblique plot twist that’s oddly satisfying for its dead end brilliance.