Alexandre Aja, the guy who made his American debut with the delightfully demented and hawkish Hills Have Eyes 2006 remake, did High Tension, a little European number from 2003 about a tough chick who goes out to a friend’s country home for a weekend of relaxation. Being a horror movie, though it’s more of a thriller really, nobody gets to relax because the whole family gets killed by a psychopath, the friend gets kidnapped by said psycho and tough chick Marie has to rescue her. It’s a very simple 90 minutes.
The title High Tension is perfectly apt. A good 90% of the movie consists of tough chick Marie (who I describe as such because she sports a somewhat cute pixie haircut and her shoulders are broader than my own) evading the psycho in various situations and settings. This kind of set-up doesn’t lend itself to much dialogue and thankfully, there’s very little of it. No stupid one-liners, no exposition, nothing, almost like a silent movie. It’s refreshing to see a movie where the atmosphere just takes over and characters don’t yammer away for no reason. I’m looking at you, Silent Hill, with your “There’s a door here!” and “Use this to swing over!”
High Tension’s eerie soundtrack, sometimes interrupted by ironic European pop music (I guess), also augments the uneasiness very well. It’s cool to see where Aja honed his atmospheric lighting skills, confident camera and talent for tension, so this flick is worth seeing for that. The movie’s pure suspense and gore all the way, and the gore is some really impressive make-up work. Slit throats and severed limbs are so convincing I thought they had to be killing real people. I mean, it is Europe. Who knows WHAT they do over there.
However, for a movie that would be perfectly fine if it was just the silent cat-and-mouse approach, there’s a twist towards the end that doesn’t work no matter how much you think about it. It’s such a fucking cheat with hints so vague you’d have to be Agatha from Minority Report to see it coming. Thematically, it sort of works, and makes Aja look even more like a conservative nut, but look at it logically, and physically… no fuckin’ way does it work. While the idea of such a betrayal is cool – shit, look at Psycho – it does not feel like it fits. Aja doesn’t repeat this mistake in Hills Have Eyes, because, let’s face it, no American would stand for that shit.