High Tension [2003]

This one was quite the roller coaster ride, for reasons both good and bad.

I remember hearing mostly good things about Alexandre Aja’s French thriller/horror movie High Tension when it was released in the US in 2005. I didn’t know much about it, but the title and the image on the poster of a young woman with a power saw always stuck in my brain, so when I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime, I decided to jump in.

The movie starts innocently enough, as almost all slasher type movies do, with a pair of friends, Alex and Marie, driving to the French countryside to visit Alex’s family for a long weekend. Once they’re almost to their destination, we’re introduced to the film’s antagonist. We can tell he’s a bad guy because we see him fellating himself with a severed head, which he disposes of when he’s finished by tossing out the window of his dilapidated truck. Still with me? If you are, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy at least 90% of this movie.

As the title suggests, there is plenty of tension to go around, with nail-biting scene after scene. The bad man follows the girls to Alex’s house and kills her parents and little brother, and kidnaps Alex. Marie avoids detection, but ends up in the killer’s truck with Marie, determined to save her. I enjoyed this part of the movie thoroughly, until…the twist ending ruined it.

Doing a little research before writing this, I found out that High Tension largely plagiarizes the Dean Koontz novel (which was also adapted into a TV movie) Intensity—a point director Aja practically admitted in an interview around the time of the film’s release. For Koontz’s part, he put out a statement advising he was aware of the comparison but would not sue “because he found the film so puerile, so disgusting, and so intellectually bankrupt that he didn’t want the association with it that would inevitably come if he pursued an action against the filmmaker.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the level of violence (and graphic violence at that) is quite high. I would assume most people would not be phased by that if they’re wanting to watch a slasher-style movie, but just in case, take that info and do with it what you will.

Now, back to that twist ending. Jesus, what a way to crap all over the largely good film you’ve put down up to that point. In reading on the internet, I did encounter a few people who actually liked and appreciated the twist, but I (and the majority of people, apparently) found it utterly ridiculous. It was completely unnecessary, and part of me wonders if they did it just to avoid having the film be even more similar to Koontz’s novel.

Is it so bad that it makes the movie not worth watching? That depends on you. If you’re a slasher fan, I would probably still recommend checking it out, if you don’t mind a bit of a let down at the end. Still, with some of the duds I’ve watched so far this month, this is in the top two or three, although I suppose that’s not really saying much.

Published by Kenneth Jobe

Kenneth Jobe is a writer, photographer, musician, and Native Californian living in the Midwest with his wife and son. His fiction has been published in Jitter, The Rusty Nail, Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror, and the horror anthology Robbed of Sleep, Volume 2.

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