Right from the brutal opening scene showing a severely cut and beaten woman in a hospital, you know this is going to be a fucked up movie. High Tension is an intense and stylish love letter to the slasher movies of the seventies. As such, it’s more oriented towards creating an uncomfortable atmosphere and vicious action than a coherent story. It’s simply far too simplistic for that. However, since this is Alexandre Aja’s second movie, I’m willing to let all of that go. And so should you.
High Tension is a French horror movie made for horror movie fans all over the world. There will be a lot of graphic scenes with blood squirting everywhere so be ready for them. The movie is not an outright example of New French Extremity but it’s damn near close. Martyrs, Inside, and Frontier(s) all belong to this weird subgenre but it should be noted all of them came a couple of years later. Opposite of all of that chaos and tension, we have the idyllic French countryside. Although I should tell you that this Romania you’re looking at as filming there was much cheaper.
When it comes to the cast, Cécile de France as Marie was fucking brilliant. She did almost all of her stunts and trained with a Thai boxer to become more physical. It was also cool to see Maïwenn moving on with her life and giving another good performance. In case you didn’t know, Luc Besson (yes, that Luc Besson), met her when she was 12 and he was 29 and they began dating three years later. When she was 16, Maïwenn gave birth to their daughter but just three years later Luc would dump her for Milla Jovovich. This all happened on the set of The Fifth Element, where Maïwenn played Diva.
As I always say, try to separate art from the artist and you should be fine. It’s a struggle but a necessary one if we want to raise awareness about these things. Moving on, it’s fascinating to watch Aja build tension from such a familiar premise. Two girls go to a remote farm to study, I mean, what in the world could happen to them there? And yet, you can feel the tension rising with each new scene. And there’s a sexual component to all of this. Something you’re probably going to notice when the killer cuts off the head of a woman giving him a blowjob in his shabby truck.
Marie and Alex are best friends and they do everything together. So, when Alex suggests they should go to her parent’s farm for the weekend to study and chill, Marie accepts. The farm is quite remote but adorned with rural beauty and calmness. As the night falls, all of the residents retreat to their respective rooms for a bit of rest. However, then someone knocks on the door and the nightmare begins.
In a way, I appreciate this type of simple setup. There’s no boring character development or prolonged establishing shots. Wham, bam and there’s a serial killer on the loose trying to kill you. Aja will demonstrate this ability to boil down concepts in his future movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors. Another thing I like about High Tension is the appearance of the killer. He’s not some muscular or huge guy but a bit chubby fifty-year-old who looks like a plumber. But there’s something so sinister about him and his face.
The truck reminds me of another slick horror movie, Jeepers Creepers. It too had a serial killer but that one was a supernatural one. So, if you’re looking for something a bit otherworldly do check that movie out.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti
Fun Stuff: Aja used so much fake blood on the set that in a few weeks, when the same camera was being used to make a different movie, blood started dripping from the lens.