Viewed – 12 November 2013 Blu-ray
Amongst horror fans, this one movie has quite a reputation. Firstly it spawned the surge of extreme horror coming out of France, that unleashed such cult favourites as À l’intérieur (Inside) and the infamous Martyrs. It also kick started the career of director Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes). This tells the tale of best friends Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn) who travel to the countryside residence of Alex’s parents to stay for a holiday. However, amongst the idyllic surroundings, there lurks a serial killer, who drives a rusty old van and is waiting for the right moment to strike.
This atmospheric and nerve-shredding slasher movie is France’s answer to all those American genre movies that copycat Friday The 13th and Halloween – albeit with a brutal unflinching intensity that’s not easy to recover from. In America this was initially cut by several minutes to avoid the dreaded NC-17 certificate, but this unrated ‘directors cut’ restores all the blood and violence that the director intended. Rejoice gore-hounds, their is much to get your hands dirty with here – graphic throat slitting, beheadings, stabbings and even a chainsaw!! But I digress – above all else this movie is primarily about tension. Violence is spaced out, infrequent, but when it comes – it packs a punch … made all the more effective by intense build-ups. It’s clear why the movie’s title is High Tension (Haute Tension) when translated, as apposed to the less ideal Switchblade Romance as it’s known in the UK.
Now let’s get to why this movie has also divided critics. There is a twist, that is much talked about and is basically why this isn’t perfect … and for me ruins the overall effect. All I can say to Alexandre Aja is … why? My only explanation is that when this movie was released in 2003, there were many a movie that had a twist – it was the in thing, but the movie worked well enough without one. It’s a real shame because this is brilliantly shot, with a superb use of sound and music (especially Muse’s New Born) that regardless of such a fault – still manages to be a cut above similar horrors. After repeated viewings, I can’t forgive what direction Aja chose to take, which means it’s far from a masterpiece, but oh boy … will you remember it!
The Blu-ray from Lionsgate features the movie in eye-catching HD and although the muted colour pallet and the mostly night time setting prevent this from being a showpiece title – the movie is in great condition, and the 7.1 DTS French Soundtrack is superb and really effective. Some controversy has been labelled at the dubbed French voices, but I found it barely noticeable. There is also an English dubbed soundtrack (best avoided) if you just can’t do subtitles (shame on you!). Add to this several featurettes exploring the making of, as well as an English language commentary by the director and producer (well worth a listen) and scene specific commentary also – that for fans this is an essential purchase. Everyone else I recommend this if you’re after a really tense and brutal slasher that doesn’t hold back … but perhaps leave your brain on pause.
(the movie): 3.5 /5
(the Blu-ray): 4 /5