Quick, name 5 great French horror films. Sorry, Jean Rollin films don't rate - they're surrealist fantasies. Okay, Les Yeux Sans Visage but how about something made in the past 40 years? Le Pacte des Loups? No chance. Maybe Fellini's entry in Spirits of the Dead, but that's hardly modern, nor feature length.
Sadly, High Tension only supports the notion that the French don't do horror as well as, say, gay comedies. That's unfortunate because I had lofty hopes for this film to break the trend. The movie poster is certainly one of the most intriguing and dynamic of the year. Who can resist the images of a crop-headed woman wielding a mortar saw in one hand and a barbed-wire bat in the other?
The basic story is this: two lovely co-eds, Marie and Alex, retreat to the farmhouse owned by Alex's parents seeking a quite place to study. On the night of the women's arrival, no sooner is everyone snug in their pants, I mean, beds, than a sinister vintage truck drives up to the isolated farmhouse (is there any other kind?). The driver promptly and savagely murders Alex's mater, pater, and younger brother, and tosses a chain-bound Alex into his truck. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between Marie and the killer as she attempts to free her friend.
Sounds decent if over-done, right?
The film's more complicated than that but in all the wrong ways. For a movie titled "High Tension" I was surprisingly relaxed. I even took my pulse during a chase scene, an action that in itself suggests I wasn't too concerned about the endangered heroines. But the real failure takes place in the last ten minutes of the film when everything goes off the rails in an attempt to throw in a shocking twist ending. It IS shocking but only because you'll find your jaw in your popcorn from viewing the most illogical ending to any film seen all year; it's a twist that kicks the movie from far-fetched stalker fun into a quagmire of impossibility.
There are things to like about High Tension. Creator Alexandre Aja spent his meagre budget wisely (slightly more than $3 million CAN) on creating atmosphere through lighting and sound. The washed out colours mix spookily with lonely winds, creaking floorboards, and satisfying flesh-rending sound effects. But all slasher flicks rely on their use and presentation of gore and High Tension boasts deliciously grisly effects by grindhouse icon Gianetto De Rossi (Cannibal Apocalypse). The butchery is inventive, cringe-worthy, and always results in fine sprays of claret. Money well spent - too bad none was paid for a better dub of the film or to give us subtitles rather than the ridiculous American dialogue.
If you're in the mood for some imaginative carnage wrapped in a slick package, this movie's for you. However, if you're looking for something original, High Tension is about as gratifying as a John Grisham paperback. And as for "that ending"....maybe it's best to depart at the 80 minute mark and make up your own grisly finale.
High Tension is playing at 9pm at The Royal - 608 College
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