Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.
For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…
This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. Whelp, I’m kind of disappointed when I keep lounging around one area of the cinematic spectrum and I noticed that a majority of the films I’ve been doing are American productions. That doesn’t run by me, so I closed my eyes and randomly picked a movie from my foreign film DVD collection. The one I discovered I still owned has actually left me quite mixed on my curating tastes.
Just as Gone Girl has been a review I had to dig into spoilers to outright critique and approach properly, High Tension is a movie with an ending act that pretty much demands I have to break apart it from the actual movie. However, given that I don’t want to shut off people who haven’t viewed a movie and don’t want to be spoiled, twice in a row, I’m going to just try to push my spoilers all the way to the back of this review.
That said, Alexandre Aja is quite the enigma. He’s clearly an enthusiast of horror. He clearly tries to bring out the best pastiches of all the best parts of his favorite horror movie. And yet, the only movie I can actively claim to have enjoyed outright is his most deliberate piece of trash (which I won’t name since I’d like to review it later, but if that didn’t give it away, you don’t know Aja).
He’s also quite the intellectual, so the fact that most of his films have completely fatal flaws in regard to their construction very much unnerves in terms of his career.
And High Tension marked the beginning of that problem for him.
So, High Tension is the story of a college student, Marie (Cecile de France), who takes her friend Alex (Maiwenn)’s offer to stay with Alex’s family on a weekend trip. Shortly after their arrival, a serial killer brutally slaughters Alex’s father, mother, and brother and kidnaps Alex. Marie escapes and finds herself in the middle of a responsibility to rescue her friend.
That’s it. Plain and simple, a story of a situation of heightened danger and terror left to the protagonist to survive. The closest we get to any themes is the very unsubtle hints that Marie actually is infatuated with Alex beyond friendship. The movie more or less carries itself with just a deliberate focus on what event is on-screen and continuously moving itself forward based on that. Each situation is tenser than the last and you doubt you’ll feel somebody will live ’til the end of the night.
That’s sort of the beauty of High Tension, if there is such a thing in the movie. Its simplicity. Most moments in the film feel as though, before making the movie, Aja had probably studied Alfred Hitchcock’s methods of making the audience in fear of something the characters don’t know is coming, for better or worse. The movie is slow and steady and the suspense slowly rises like a great red cake to a bloody climax before the moments of silence starting this circle of tension all over again. The movie definitely earns its title.
Where Aja doesn’t leave the audience hanging is by his modern sensibilities translating the Hitchcockian intentions to the current ADD generation. That’s pretty classy of him to prevent undermining the moments in the film by dedicating so much to the Master of Suspense. The darkened moments of natural lighting, the looming moments observing Marie’s arrested breathing in the shadow of the serial killer she is both evading and pursuing, the MacGuffin being the Damsel in Distress, Alex awaiting her salvation.
de France constantly supplies her own amount of fright, but she’s only meant to be the face of what the audience is supposed to feel every passing moment. Terror. That the killer might be right behind them or across from the door or just ready to bring about whatever brutality is next. It lends itself to quite the shocking atmosphere. In a line of films dedicated so much to their simplicity, to one-track minds just trying to sway the audience in one direction, High Tension has proven itself as the most capable of all of these films. It was all Aja’s show and he showed a great ability to craft cinema into a demanding involvement on the screen.
And then he done fucked up.
This is where I will now
discuss destroy the movie utilizing the elements of its ending, so if you want to stop and watch the movie and then decide “Oh god, what have I done going the entire way through”, stop reading and go right on ahead. Or save yourself some terrible time and keep going with my review.
Not every fucking movie needs a twist. In fact, most movies, if you put enough effort into them, do not end up as The Usual Suspects is the only thing to take it from decent to well worth watching solely on the basis of their twist.
High Tension was rode its simplicity all the way to the bank that I don’t understand how it didn’t bother to finish that landing simple as well, whether it was a happy ending or worse.
But that’s not what bugs the shit out of me. No, what bugs the shit out of me is how the ending ruins everything the movie was standing for by taking the decision of writing in a twist that makes no fucking sense. That leaves a wake of plotholes behind it as the movie closes on its idiotic explanation for the events of the film, when it was scary just having the movie display a severe case of random wanton violence, smirking to itself “hehehe, we’re soooooo fucking smart because nobody expected this twist.”
No, nobody expected the fucking twist because it made no sense, not because it was well-written. And now, this very fragile plot is torn completely to shreds all defecated upon by the idea that “Oh Marie could have been in two places at once” and that oh “Marie was chasing herself the whole time.” It brings what was starting as a very fantastic horror movie to a piece of trash, I don’t want to see again. It just doesn’t add up. It reminds me of the pitch of the Three from Spike Jonze’s Adaptation.
I like to still think Alexandre Aja has that great film inside of him – the horror movie to end all horror movies because the first two acts of this film are so controlled and so manipulative of the audience that it’s clear the man is a great director.
I’m just still waiting for it. And he’s left me in suspense for this.