1/4, 2000s, Horror, Review

High Tension

Image result for high tension 2003 poster

Once in a while a foreign film comes and makes waves in the American markets. It’s usually something genre based and latches onto some pre-existing popular movement. Think The Brotherhood of the Wolf that sort of fit into the fold with The Matrix (at least it could be sold that way). High Tension was the French version of grungy horror that would later form into torture porn like Hostel. It’s also kind of terrible.

This movie seems to be most well known for a late plot twist that defies any sense of logic, but the problems are manifold and start much earlier. I think the biggest single problem, that feeds into everything else, is the fact that the movie doesn’t have a first act. It has roughly ten minutes that are meant to substitute for a first act, but it’s way too thin to actually do the work that a first act should do. We get very brief introductions to Marie and Alex, our two main characters. We understand that they are friends, they are in college together, and Alex’s family has never met Marie. We get no sense of Alex’s family, whom the pair are coming to visit.

And then the killing starts. But here’s the other large part of the problem, the movie doesn’t seem to understand how to actually build tension, which is ironic considering the movie’s title. There’s a scene early where Marie is touching herself that is cut together like it’s supposed to be building tension, but it’s actually just random cutting between Marie’s actions and other people sleeping. It goes on for a curiously long time, but because there’s nothing at stake and no danger approaching that the audience or the characters might or might not know about, it reads dead. Considering the later revelation, I suppose it’s meant to act as tension filled upon a second viewing, but I’ll get to that.

A large man bursts into the house and starts brutally murdering everyone. He captures Alex while Marie has a close escape that feels like it’s making too much of too little (stretching the time of the sequence and the overall film in the process). A chase ensues, Marie ends up in the back of the man’s truck along with Alex without the man’s knowledge. They stop at a gas station where the man ends up killing the attendant there and Marie gets really frustrated with a police dispatcher who can’t read her mind about where she is.

They get into a car chase and Marie kills the man. It’s at this point that the police happen to find the right gas station, roll back the security footage and we get our shocking twist! Marie is the killer!

It’s shocking because the movie lied.

None of the actions leading up to that point indicate that as a remote possibility. Thinking back to Fight Club is useful here, because upon the first viewing of Fincher’s film, it’s usually shocking that Jack and Tyler Durden are the same person, but a careful review of the film on a subsequent viewing shows that it’s completely possible considering what’s happening up to that point. High Tension was too concerned with screwing with its audience that they never bothered to make the twist plausible upon subsequent viewings, probably satisfied with the idea that no one would ever guess it. Well, good job. Everyone hates the twist and the movie as a whole because of it.

But, the movie up to that point doesn’t work anyway, so I don’t know why the twist would be some great breaking point. It’s ugly to look at. It has no discernable characters. It has no story. It’s tension fails to connect half the time (it connects the other half, probably out of luck). There are some brutal kills that could elicit some enjoyment if you’re into that sort of thing (I can appreciate the artistry of a good kill, to be fair). There’s just so much to dislike up to that point.

Netflix Rating: 2/5

Quality Rating: 1/4

5 thoughts on “High Tension”

  1. I think the guy who directed this also did the first Silent Hill movie. That film has lots of atmosphere, loaded with dread, and the first creature is weird enough to be startling. But the whole thing is wrapped in such pervasive sadism that it isn’t enjoyable.

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    1. I actually enjoyed that first Silent Hill movie. I remember Roger Ebert’s review of it where he was really torn because he hated its story but loved its technical merits.

      I probably haven’t seen it since I saw it in theaters, but I remember just loving the vision of it and feeling the story was well enough handled to string me along.

      I think Silent Hill shows a mountain of talent in comparison to High Tension, though. I don’t think this works in the least.

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      1. Well, let me amend that. I enjoyed the film up until the last act, where I thought it just piled on the sadism. Especially as concerned Laurie Holden’s character. One could argue it was central to the whole situation, but I don’t remember them delving too much into the nature of why the town was the way it was (they explained the history, yes, but why did they wear skull helmets? How come no one just left?)

        I agree, beautiful unique-looking film.

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