High Tension

Rarely Is a Movie So Aptly Titled

Main Cast: Cecile De France

Director: Alexander Aja

Let’s just get one thing out of the way upfront. High Tension makes no logical sense at all, and every second you spend trying to sort it out and rationalize answers to all the many many questions raised by trying to do so will only take away from your enjoyment of this high energy bloodbath of a film.

College friends Marie (Cecile De France, Hereafter) and Alex (Maiwenn, The Fifth Element) are taking a break from class and going to Alex’s parents’ house in the country for the weekend when a mysterious stranger shows up late at night and makes short work of the parents and Alex’s little brother. Marie, who was staying in the guest room on the third floor, erases any trace of her presence and hides away until the killer tosses a chained-up Alex in the back of his murder van and drives away. Marie, who had been trying to free Alex when he came back from making sure there were no survivors, is now locked in the back of the van as well.

When the van stops at a gas station, Marie sneaks inside and tries to warn the attendant to call the police, but the killer comes inside before he can do so, then, because the attendant is obviously nervous, kills him before searching the rest of the station and, content there’s no one else in the building, takes off with Alex. Leaving Marie, who was hiding in the men’s room, to steal the attendant’s car and follow after an unsuccessful call to the police.

Marie tracks the killer’s van down a back road, but then the killer manages to get behind her and causes her to wreck before giving chase through the woods. What happens next will not only bring the whole shocking incident to an even more shocking conclusion, but will then turn your brain inside out and possibly even cause your synapses to implode.

High Tension, 2003, is directed by Alexander Aja (The Hills have Eyes, Mirrors) who also wrote the script with Gregory Levasseur (The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors), and the action unfolds in typical Aja fashion, which, from the movies I’ve seen, is exciting and visceral and holds your attention in every frame. He knows how to establish tension to the nth degree and makes even the ugliest scene somehow beautiful. Yes, High Tension is a gratuitous movie, yes it’s more violent than it needs to be, but Aja makes it work for the story and the characters.

The killer here (played by Philippe Nahon, Irreversible) is remorseless and unreasoning in his motivation, which is to take Alex. That’s it, he simply wants to take her. What he wants to do with her once he’s taken her is anyone’s guess, but judging by his actions leading up to her kidnapping, and the blood already smeared along the inside of his van before he ever gets her inside, it’s obvious he’s got nothing good planned for her. But his determination is unwavering and uncompromising.

This is the way Aja portrays his killer and it’s the way he shoots his movie.

Meanwhile, Cecile De France as Alex is equally determined to save her friend’s life, even if it means getting trapped in the back of a murder van to do it. Her will is just as strong as the killer’s, but she’s also got the added problem of not know what in the holy hell is going on. At this point, she’s acting on pure instinct, and for the most part her instincts are right, and she manages to live to see another scene.

Unfortunately there’s that little matter of the last 15 minutes to deal with.

Honestly, I don’t see how this movie could have ended any other way and still maintain the integrity of the third act reveal, but that doesn’t make it right. So so many questions are raised in light of it, and not a single one of them is one I plan to either address here or try to answer on my own afterward. Suffice it to say, it’s a headscratcher for sure.

And yet it doesn’t take away at all from the enjoyment of everything that came before. I know, enjoyment seems like such an inappropriate word considering the extreme nature of the movie, but I have to consider that a testament to what a unique and powerful filmmaker Aja is.

High Tensioin is definitely not for everyone, and there are many who are going to simply hate it outright, but as a horror movie, it does so many things exactly right that I’m willing to overlook a little flaw in the logic, even when that little flaw is as big as a mountain.

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