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"High Tension"

Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Written by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur.
Starring Cécile de France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon.
Release Year:  2003
Review Date:  6/12/05

Folks-- 

I had just left work on Friday and my buddy Ross calls me on my cell:

"Yo, before I see you on Saturday, go check out 'High Tension.'  Do it!"

So, even though I hadn't heard of this movie and had seen no trailer, I bought in to the Ross sell job and took in the last show of the night at the Regal Galleria Place downtown.  Here's what I told Ross after seeing the flick:

"Average."

Ross then came back and argued--correctly--that this was the best horror movie we had seen in a while.  This is because almost every other "horror" flick I have seen in the last eight months has been nothing short of dogshit.

Given this pedigree, "High Tension" is damn near "Citizen Kane" in terms of quality, but still, on its own it simply isn't very interesting.  It is quick and it is REALLY bloody...and I only saw the R-rated version.

Marie (Cécile de France) and Alex (Maïwenn) are two college friends going home for some kind of weekend or holiday or something.  Alex's family--mom, dad, little brother, happy dog--lives on a farm billions of miles from civilization, and when Alex and Marie arrive it's late at night, so they immediately head up to bed and off to sleep.

Soon afterwards, a garbage man (Philippe Nahon) shows up at Alex's house fresh off of giving himself fellatio courtesy of a severed head.  No, I'm not fucking kidding.  The garbage man proceeds to knock on the door of Alex's house, gain entry, and start killing people.

Now, to talk about this movie any further will simply give it all away, so if you are interested in ever seeing this movie, stop reading this review right now.

Seriously.

Are you gone yet?

Okay, if you are sticking around, here's the deal.  First off, there are two versions of this film floating around.  One is the French version, subtitled, uncut and crazy bloody.  I did not see this version; I saw the edited version, with one minute less of people getting beaten, cut up or sawed in half.  I don't think I missed much of the gore, but the worst part about the edited version?

IT IS FUCKING DUBBED!

In fact, "High Tension" rivals any bad martial-arts-film dub job; apparently, only de France dubbed her part, so everyone else has been "Americanized" and the result is abysmal.  Worse, the film cuts back and forth between the English and the French without any explanation as to why.  Worse than this is the first question I have, "Why would these two women speak any English at all?"  It's not like they are American exchange students, or French students that have English families, or whatever.  They just regularly change between the two languages for no reason.  And whoever voices Alex (and the little brother) are my early picks for worst acting performances of the year.  Just horrific.

Okay, so let's say you can get past the dialogue, which is a distraction but not a total letdown.  You have a story with a twist that comes at the end, which you kind of see coming but not unless you completely (and I mean, COMPLETELY) twist the logic that comes from that (totally sick) scene with the garbage man giving himself head from a severed head.  Here's what I mean--you tell us that Marie is not what she seems.  Cool.  Well, if that's the case, did MARIE give herself head from a dead head at the beginning of the movie?  I must have missed a step, because if the garbage man isn't real, does it make any sense that a woman takes a severed head and uses it to go down on herself?

Maybe I don't want an answer to that one.  But, riddle me this--let's just say that Marie and Alex do arrive together in Alex's car at the family house.  How does the garbage/slaughter truck get to the house if there is no real garbage man?  I really did feel like the writer/director, Alexandre Aja, just kind of came up with an ending to his film without thinking through how it got there.

I will give "High Tension" this--people REALLY get killed in this one.  No sugarcoating necessary, just good ol' fashioned nasty kills.  One guy gets it with an axe, and then to add insult to injury the killer stomps down on the guy with the axe still in his chest, complete with nasty rib-cage-is-breaking-internally sound effects.  Whew, people really die in this movie.  The kills are the crowd highlight, because you can't believe some sick bastard came up with all of this.

But save for its gore level "High Tension" didn't really feel like anything special.  The last 30 minutes of the movie are dragged out to the point where I was standing up to leave just waiting for us to see the flashback from the beginning again.  (Yep, it's one of THOSE films.)  With the impending "Dark Water" and a few other PG-13 versions of the spookfest coming up, there's no end in sight to this wave of crap but I will admit--at least it's not a romantic comedy.

Rating:  Rental (MAYBE a Matinee if I had seen the subtitled version)

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09