high tension | alexandre aja | gregory levasseur | cecile de france | maiwenn | philippe nahon | french extreme | france | italy | romania | franck khalfoun | andrei finti | oana pellea | marco claudiu pascu | jean-claude de goros | bogdan uritescu | gabriel spahiu
Film: High Tension (Haute tension)
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer: Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur
Starring: Cécile de France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon
This was film that I remember seeing for the first time in college. I’m not sure how my roommate got turned on to it, but he did and we watched it as a house. I remember being blown away by how brutal it was. It really was the reveal at the end that really got me though. I hadn’t seen it in around 15 years until my next viewing which was at my local theater as part of their Horror 101 series. I also gave it a third viewing due to working on the Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Challenge series list. The synopsis is best friends Marie (Cécile de France) and Alexia (Maïwenn) decide to spend a quiet weekend at Alexia’s parents’ secluded farmhouse. But on the night of their arrival, the girls’ idyllic getaway turns into an endless night of horror.
We start here with Marie as she is running through the woods. She is covered in blood and she gets someone to pull over, but they have to veer from hitting her. The person chasing them appears from the woods and Marie wakes up. This was all a dream and she’s in the backseat of Alexia’s car. Marie tells her the dream she had and we learn that she has similar dreams a lot. The two of them talk about things we learn there are going to Alexia’s parents’ house so they can study for exams. It is also revealed that Alexia is interested in a guy while Marie seems to push all men away.
The movie then introduces us to Le tueur (Philippe Nahon). We never really get a good look at his face until much later, but he has a large, rusted old truck. We are also given a good idea of his depravity with what he’s doing before he drives off as well.
It is dark when the two girls arrive. The house is located down a road that runs through a cornfield. Alexia’s mother, Oana Pellea, has already gone to bed, but her father, Andrei Finti, greets them at the door. Her little brother Tom (Marco Claudiu Pascu) tried to stay up, but needs to be put to bed.
Marie is shown around and gets tea with Alexia before going to their rooms. Marie puts on some music. It is during this that we see the truck from earlier pull up. He rings the bell and it catches Marie’s attention due to the dog barking. It also catches the attention of the father. Answering the door is just the beginning of the nightmare as it becomes a night of violence and depravity. Not everything is as it seems though.
Now I have to say, having seen this the first time I dug it as a film where Marie is trying to save her friend from this monster of a human being. This falls into the French Extremity movement which I’m a fan of. I didn’t know this at the time, but there’s a reveal at the end of the film that made my jaw drop. Since that viewing, I’ve been meaning to rewatch this to see if you can pick up on it or if it was one of those things that were a cheat. With this viewing, I can say that its not. There are quite a few hints that are dropped, especially something very early on that I heard podcasters talk about and it took me until this viewing to finally catch. Aspects of that which make a lot of sense to what is going on later in the film, but I will say that some of them do not necessarily work for some of things that happen.
Since I don’t do spoilers in these, I will have to go a little vague on some of the things that I want to cover. It is interesting that Alexia doesn’t pick up on Marie being a lesbian. She keeps calling Marie out for not liking men, Marie says how the men that Alexia goes after a womanizers and she doesn’t have a response when told that she is going to end up alone. We get to see that Marie finds Alexia attractive when she’s watching her in the shower. I think this is an interesting aspect that plays in later in the film. It is a bit problematic in the grand scheme of social commentary, but I don’t think it is the reason things are happening. It is just more that this person is a psychopath and lost grip with reality.
I’ll move next to the pacing of the film, which I think is good. We are introduced to a nightmare that gets played out later in the film just a tad bit different. From there, we meet our three stars of the film and given a solid idea of them. It doesn’t take long for the craziness to start either. As I’ve said above, there are little things to pick up on in your second viewing after you know what happens. It kind of has an aspect to horror films I like to see more of and the motive is an interesting one. I definitely like how this all plays out and the devastation of everything that’s happened. Again, there is a bit of unrealistic things for one of the deaths, but not enough to run this movie for me.
That will take me into the acting of the movie. De France I thought was good the first time I saw it. It is after this second viewing that I realize she is really good. I like that we see her doing what she can to save her and her friend. She goes through some trauma, but not nearly on the same level. Maïwenn is really the best performance though. Just watching the subtle things she does while being tied up really make this film work. We do get to see her topless as well, which I won’t complain about. Nahon is such a monstrous figure here. I’ve seen him in two different films where he’s a psychopath and he has such a great look for it. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
As for the effects of the film, being the movement that it is from, you expect this to be pretty brutal. It does have its moments, but if anything I’d say this is one of the tamer ones. There are some deaths that we see all the way up until the point and then it cuts away. We do get a great neck slit though and some brutal things later for sure. It all seemed to be done practical, which probably explains the cut a-ways. I really didn’t have any issues here and I thought that it was shot in an interesting way that works with the reveal.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. I thought they did a solid job of picking out songs that are haunting. There were times where I could feel my anxiety going up as Le tueur is looking for Marie and the selection was helping there. I thought the other tracks were fine and fit the film for what was needed.
Now with that said, this is a film that I really liked the first time I saw it and needed a second viewing to really make sure that the reveal worked. I have to say with that viewing and then this next one, it did for me. I thought the idea is an interesting one we don’t see very often and the reasoning behind it makes sense. The pacing of the movie works, it doesn’t take long to get into it and it doesn’t waste any time getting to the horrific elements. I thought the acting was solid across the board, the effects are a little bit lighter than others from this movement, but I didn’t have any issues there. The soundtrack worked and fit for what was needed. It is an interesting film as most of it is actually in English with parts later in French with subtitles. I could be wrong here, but that’s the way I’ve seen it with the DVD I have and in the theater. This is a foreign film, so keep that in mind. If that’s not an issue and you can handle the brutally, I found this to be good and would recommend giving this a couple viewings.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10