Review: “High Tension”

Whilst derivative in the extreme to the likes of the American low budget slasher films of the late 70’s like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Alexandre Aja’s French take on the gore filled “girl in trouble trying to escape a homicidal maniac” genre is actually an effective little atmospheric piece. With long moments of no dialogue, colour drenched vistas and plenty of blood and gore of the quite realistic kind rather than cheesy rubber FX entrails or fake heads (though the later does make a short appearance) – the word here is tension which this cleverly sustains for much of its runtime.

Then comes the moment where it all falls apart. A third act twist comes in designed to shock audiences but in actuality its not only preposterous but essentially ruins what till that point had been a simple but quite effective setup. As this twist affects all the events of the last 20 minutes or so of the film, the movie seems to dump the subtlety and brooding quiet of the early parts in favour of pure hack and slash violence which is far less interesting.

Actually upon reflection its surprising how much mileage the film gets considering how unoriginal it is, not to mention the simply terrible dubbing process. Released by Lions Gate, the US version takes a French tale but populates it with strong American accents for its leads, English-speaking French accents for the supporting characters, and keeps moments that remain purely in French. The voices very clearly do not match the lip movement and slight attempts to change the story feel awkward. Much of the early setup is somewhat generic and plain, short of moments of lesbianism and masturbation to rock music that was added no doubt to pull in the guy vote.

Its when the butchering begins the film improves. With the dialogue for the most part gone, Aja cleverly ramps up the suspense levels for some great moments in the film’s second act that are built more on simmering unease than outright shocks. The surprisingly rich looking visuals and offbeat score also add to that sense of dread quite effectively. A decent start and strong middle though are let down by such a dud ending. The film shows Aja is a talent to watch in the future and more he relies on the unconventional, the more likely he’ll come up with a true classic.