Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: Haute Tension (High Tension, 2003)

Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011 heads to France for the latest bout of horror, to be honest, France is not my go to country for horror!

Written By: Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur
Directed By: Alexandre Aja

I don’t like to have to say this, but since so many people happen to be touchy on a subject that I don’t believe deserves the time of day, I will be liberally spoiling Haute Tension throughout this review. There, now you know random not regular reader of this blog, don’t come crying to me about spoilers, I won’t listen.

With that bit of pedantry out of the way I can fully inform you of how utterly disappointing I found Haute Tension to be. Before I get to what made it disappointing I need to discuss why the disappointment I ultimately felt was so, uh, disappointing. Haute Tension could be thrown in with any film from the slasher sub-genre of horror. The initial story it presents is very common, very much a story that has been done before, seen before, and heard before. Within the well worn framework of the initial story Alexandre Aja establishes a style, a setting so drenched in ambiance that it makes up for the known nature of the story.

Mr. Aja uses a few different tools from his directorial skill set to make Haute Tension more than just another gory slasher. The camera roams around the characters, creating both distance and a sense of claustrophobia. The scene where the father is killed begins by instilling a sense of distance between the father, his would be attacker, and the audience. By the time the father has been killed the camera has enveloped the father, the viewer has no hope of escaping the violence bestowed upon the father. Pierre André was the head of sound on Haute Tension and Mr. Aja is smart enough to trust him to be as quiet as he wants to be. The floors creak in Haute Tension, boots squish as they walk over blood, most importantly characters breathe. The music of François Eudes ever encroaches upon the silent atmosphere that Mr. Aja is so obviously aiming for. These are the main tools Mr. Aja uses to create what should have been a great movie, it’s too bad he didn’t have enough confidence in his technical prowess.

The disappointment I spoke of earlier comes in the form of the very large twist of Haute Tension. It’s not the twist of Marie being the killer that actually bothers me, it’s the execution. If Mr. Aja and fellow writer Grégory Levasseur had found a way to integrate their twist into the story so that it made sense I would have quite enjoyed their twist. Sadly they were not able to do that and yet they stuck with the twist of Marie being the killer, which creates plot holes as big as Antarctica, if I may be allowed to partake in hyperbole. No matter how one slices it, turns it around, or looks at it, there are whole chunks of Haute Tension that do not make a lick of sense once Marie is revealed to have actually been the mystery man the entire time.

When the twist happened I was initially shocked, I do give Mr. Aja and Mr. Levasseur credit for that. However, once the shock wore off and I thought about Marie as the killer my disappointment began to mount. It didn’t make sense for her to be the killer, but it made even less sense for Mr. Aja to be so unwilling to trust the film he was making. Imagine if Kar Wai Wong had decided that the lead characters in Fa Yeung Nin Wa needed to get together at the very end of a movie about how they couldn’t be together. What if Gus Van Sant decided that the jock in Elephant would succeed in taking out one of the killers? Those scenarios never happened, they would have been pleasing, maybe even a little shocking but they didn’t happen. For them to happen would have been dishonest to the spirit of the movie that had come before.

For whatever reason Mr. Aja went with a twist that was never going to work simply because it would be shocking. His decision was disappointing, as a result of said decision Haute Tension ended as a severe letdown. Haute Tension had a lot of potential, and for a long while it was shaping up to be a great horror film. The silly twist never allowed that fully realized great horror film to come to pass. Haute Tension is, at the end, unfulfilling and far less than it could have been, how very disappointing.





3 responses to “Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: Haute Tension (High Tension, 2003)

  1. I really liked the idea of the twist… but I agree it was just not executed well. There were enough problems that it didn’t even seem remotely believable. I still liked the movie, but the poor execution of the suprise twist did make me like it less.

  2. I still ended up liking the movie as well, especially the style, but like you the twist led to me liking it less than I otherwise would have.

  3. Pingback: Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: The 2nd Annual Bloody Machete Awards | Bill's Movie Emporium

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