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High Tension

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 02/06/04 07:35:41

"A Film With Too Much Head"
3 stars (Average)

Some filmmakers just canít leave well enough alone. Others donít even try. So itís at this curious crossroads where I find myself both enjoying the unapologetic bloodfest of Haute Tension and extending certain digits at it for trying to be overly clever. You had us in the palm of your hands. You really did. Why try to complicate your Grand Guignol when the psychology is going to be flat-out dumber than the age-old slasher vs. victim idea? Is it because everyone else is doing it or you just wanted to incorporate some cleverness into a bare-bones plot? Whatever the answer is, the fact still remains that itís the blood that triumphs over the brains this time.

A tale as old as time finds best friends Marie (Cecile de France) and Alex (Maiwenn) are on holiday away from college and choose to take up residence for the time being at the country house of Alexís parents. Oh, but as the old French proverb tells us, weather, wind, women and fortune change like the moon. Especially when youíve got a dirty nut out there giving himself oral courtesy of a disembodied head. Get it? Head from a head? OK, not so clever. Re-Animator did it nearly 20 years ago.

Nothing good can come of this as the psychopath will soon come looking for fresh head(s) and rings the doorbell of the farmhouse late that evening. When Papa Farmhouse answers the door, well, letís just say youíve already been warned as to whatís going to come of him. Only it comes in the form of one of the most original quality kills Iíve seen in some time, so my inner ghoul was ready for some ghastly fun. And I got more than I bargained for.

Besides the requisite gore (and WOW, does the blood flow in this flick) director Alexandre Aja delivers a truly satisfying cat-and-mouse chase throughout the film. From the house escape to a hide-and-seek at a gas station, the tension is seriously taut and haute (French for ďhighĒ) and the no-holds-barred use of the corn syrup only adds to an experience that serious horror fans are going to pleasure themselves with.

But that just wasnít good enough, as Aja and co-writer Gregory Levasseur have fashioned some inner meaning around the carnage that results in one of those late-act turns of the screw that forces us to reevaluate everything weíve just seen. Surely to be one for debate on the internet for years, it wouldnít feel so out-of-place if the audience was played fair with. Without ruining the ďhuh, what?Ē moment, all Iíll say is that all explanations are moot once you trace the gaps of logic back to the Re-Animator gag. Itís been questioned how similar Ajaís film is to Dean Koontzís novel, Intensity, and after being told that the first two acts are freakishly similar (not like its that original a premise to begin with) perhaps the ďhuh, what?Ē is there to avoid a lawsuit.

Haute Tension more then delivers on its title by, more often than not, focusing on the suspense of the situation, although most may only remember its bloodletting. Make no mistake, Haute Tension is as NC-17 a horror film as Iíve ever seen. The violence is ugly and disturbing, yet also so over-the-top you canít help have a little breathless fun with it. If only Aja had trusted in that instead of what was unrequited, he could have avoided a level of pretentiousness that only the French seem to bring to a project. Then again, its probably better to avoid copyright infringement than pretentiousness.

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