An advanced look at High Tension - By B. Alan Orange
High Tension? Eh, I guess so (there’s one scene inside a gas station that will certainly have your ovaries swimming up inside your uterus). High class? Absolutely. This is one of the slickest, smartest slasher exposes I’ve seen in quite some time. It takes its genre seriously, and refuses to play out the coy joke. You know how, in Scream and all of its subsequent rip-offs, the lead protagonist knowingly riffs on every kill-count cliché, yet still falls into the same muted 80s-Era horror trap? Well, here, it’s as if the hot bitch lead has seen these same films. Only, instead of paying lip service to the beat structure and then falling into the inevitable, requisite script machination or two, she actually uses her splatter knowledge to make all the right moves and elude the bad guy as best she can. Doesn’t mean she’ll get away, exactly.
This tight, slim package moves at such a quick clip, we never have time to think about what we’d actually do in this same situation. The pacing hits at lightening bolt speed, and leaves little time to actually scream at the screen. “Don’t do that! Don’t open that! Don’t go in there!” These are all trademarked audience responses that almost always get uttered in the face of such entertainment. Not here. If we are given a moment to think, “Don’t go in there!” The heroine doesn’t go in there. She does what we, as real human beings, would do. Which brings an odd aura to the piece. We can’t really get mad at Marie (played by Cecile De France). All we’re able to do is stare at that projected light and say, “Fuck! If that was me up there, I’d be dead already. Bravo hot girl in the tight t-shirt!”
High Tension is a relatively simplistic film. It pretends, for a long time, to be substance free. It has base appeal, appearing to be nothing more than an above par chase film. A game of cat and mouse. But as that tiny screw of conciliatory narrative digs into the wood, past the head, artful splinters of theme squeeze up from the surface and fall to the floor. Before the end comes to fruition, its understood that brains have somehow managed to ease themselves into the piece, and I don’t just mean the ones that are splattered all over the living room wall.
This is a Sneak Preview, spoiler free. So, suffice it to say, I can’t talk too much about the conclusion, or what it means to the overall storyline. Director Alexandre Aja claims that the movie has no hidden agenda. Theory does not apply. High Tension, with the sum of its parts added up, means nothing in the scheme of things. This lean account is nothing more than a run fast, hack-em up endeavor. Aja insists that the only cartable message would be, “Don’t study for finals in the middle of nowhere.” Which, if true, would still be a brilliant tackle of the implied horror metaphors it harks up from its raw throat tissue.
I’m sure, here in June, a lot of you are familiar with studying for Finals; the corner stone of the plot held within the framework of High Tension. Two super fine French chicks go to a secluded farmhouse to brush up on their Poly-Sci and along comes this hobo killer in a Jeepers Creepers truck, swinging his straight razor into the necks of the host family. That horrific type of bloodletting perfectly captures the silent hill thought process that can invade the cerebellum when trying to concentrate on some boring textbook. The weight of its intensity is thrown forward with an artful arc, and this quaint notion is quite capable of holding its own in the annals of horror film history. But then, the last twenty minutes comes along and opens up a complicated hole. We realize that Aja’s “This story is quit meaningless” statement is a muted attempt at keeping the sordid conclusion a hidden secret. Worked for me, I was taken by surprise. I didn’t see the inevitable coming, even though Marie tells us right off the bat, in those first few frames, what must become of those around her.
Without giving anything away, I’d say that the real message behind this new horror film by French director Alexandre Aja is, “Hidden inside every beautiful lesbian is an Uncle Bob-looking mother fucker who’ll cut you in half without thinking twice about it. All in the name of unrequited love!”
The movie is purposely steeped in 70s horror, coming off like a hybrid Halloween clone that’s eaten an intelligence biscuit. Aja and co-writer/partner Gregory Levasseur openly acknowledge all of their influences, and these obtainable odes show through gloriously on screen. At this current point in Horror history, the only way to evolve and progress the slasher concept is to go backwards. Back to when films like this were actually supposed to be scary. To make something like High Tension truly work, Aja and Levasseur had to implement a given soup stock and grind in darker blues and brown hues. Edge it past mediocre. The Texas Chainsaw remake tried to do the same thing, but failed on many levels mainly due to a sturdy repetition of events. High Tension employs quite a few of these same omnipresent moves, but never repeats them for scare’s sake alone. It plays out its secretions in a quick, tidy manner and never dwells on the obvious; instead skipping to the left. Landing it in a realm of unpredictability. Like it’s originator, Halloween, High Tension has studied and implemented Feminist Theory to the point of contention. It’s reasoning is to twist the method past any type of fevered recognition.
What we’re left with is one of the best body count pictures in quite some time. Forget House of Wax, and Boogeyman, and White Noise, and the other hundred or so spook shows that have cluttered up the multiplex this year. High Tension is the Real Thing. To quote Faith No More, the film is “To touch the roots of experience. It contains the most basic ingredients. It sees the unseen glitter of life, and it feels the dirt, grief, anger, and strife…Let’s cherish this certainty of now, it will kill you a bit at a time. Cradle the inspiration, High Tension will leave you writhing on the floor!”
Yup, like a dirty whore.
Hardcore reggae masturbation. Naked titties. Buckets of blood. Visceral gore. A beautifully orchestrated Gas Station chase that will literally leave you breathless. Old fashion scares abound in this Lion’s Gate transaction. They, too, deserve a bit of credit for continuing to deliver the goods. They’re one of the few studios dedicated to keeping quality genre flicks alive (Rogue Pictures is the only other schlock company devotee I can think of). This and their (i.e. Lion’s Gate’s) upcoming Australian zombie pic UNDEAD make for a pitch perfect sweaty affair this rather bland movie-going summer. If you like involuntary teeth perspiration, you’ll get a real heart-bleeding kick out of High Tension. It’s a five-fingered endeavor worthy of its steep admission price. A lean, mean fighting machine. And Goddamn it, Cecile De France is so tasty, I’d give the film a pass just on her sheer presence alone. She’s like a newer, hotter version of Lori Petty. Throughout the duration of its 80-minute running time, all I could think about was touching her luscious breasts. I like them in that tight, blue T-shirt; yum…
The film opens June 10th! Be there or suck a piss biscuit, chump!
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