High Tension/Haute Tension
Grade: C+
Year: 2005
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur
Genre: Horror
Rated: R/UR-Uncut
By Scott Spicciati


If you're reading this before the film's release, scanning advanced movie reviews of "Haunte Tension," then you're probably confused as to why critics are having a hard time penning their thoughts about Alexandre Aja's much anticipated graphically violent horror movie. We'll get to that in a moment.

Marie and Alex (Cécile De France and Maïwenn Le Besco), two college classmates and good friends, are driving down a dusty country road to Alex's parents' secluded home out in the middle of nowhere for a little studying (International Law to be specific) and peace and quiet. Quite the contrary happens when a brutal knife-wielding serial killer interrupts their getaway vacation for a night of copious bloodshed.

That I'm telling you Marie survives the ordeal is no spoiler considering we see her alive and well in a hospital room as soon as the movie opens. It's one of those films where we get a quick glimpse of what's at the end of the tunnel before starting from the beginning, watching the series of events leading up to it. Like "The Hole," another European thriller, we know there's at least one survivor - but we figure something's not right and needs explaining.

Such a strategy is hard for filmmakers because audiences already know the lead character survives, therefore it is extremely difficult to make the rest of the film an effective thriller. We have to be kept in suspense while the lead character tries to desperately suppress her gasping scream with cupped hands from underneath the bed as the killer circles it. Hindsight tells us she's going to make it out of there, so let's see what the filmmakers have up their sleeves.

To Aja's credit, it works. The action commences almost immediately and the chilling score cum an interesting track by the band "Muse" gets under our skin quickly - taking us back to a time when the music contributed to the effectiveness.

Maxime Alexandre's camera combines both bright and dark colors, such as the luscious greens from the encompassing forest used in the chase scenes and the gritty claustrophobic gas station bathroom during the stalking scenes.

References to "Halloween," "Jeepers Creepers" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" splice the best techniques from each celebrated slasher to create a machination that's entirely unique to itself.

Almost everything about this movie is great. Horror fans will dig the disturbing violence as there's more juicy syrup in the film than the combined totals of every soda beverage in the theater.

This is exactly the type of film horror fans don't get enough of. So then why, you must wonder, do I only give the film a 'C+'? Why have so many critics praised the movie to the degree I did, only to reveal the whole thing was a giant disappointment?

Because the rusty knife used in the gruesome throat-slitting scene was also used to cut a gaping plot-hole right through the heart of the film's logic - all for the sole purpose of giving us that "plot twist" all-too popular in today's horror films.

I admit on the surface it's cool, very cool, but it only takes half a second to come to the realization that it makes absolutely no sense to the rest of the film. Where at first you dig the concept but then instantly feel betrayed; used and abused and taken for a nasty ride.

For every question that the "twist" answers -- to be sure it answers many -- ten more questions are thrown onto the table. It's simply not plausible.

That "Haute Tension" is this year's most anticipated horror film makes the experience infinitely worse. Think M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" and you'll have the perfect understanding as to where I'm coming from. You'll feel just as manipulated.

Yet some liked "The Village." Some will like "Haute Tension" as well. Like I said, it's everything that a good horror movie should be minus the plot twist.

I give "Haute Tension" an 'A' for all the wonderful things about it I described. Cécile De France and Maïwenn Le Besco are convincing as babes in distress, pulling off solid performances.

Alas, and a big alas, I give "Haute Tension" a 'D' for its bogus plot-twist. You may disagree after seeing it. Many either buy it or forgive it. With a final grade coming out to a 'C+' I'm not compelled to turn you away. But it's insurance against your high hopes. Consider yourself warned.

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