Normally, I spend a good portion of my time making fun of the French. It’s probably because the French people that I deal with are so insufferably rude. That’s why I mumble “cheese-eating surrender-monkeys” every time I help one of them. Yet, as a history buff, I know that I owe a tremendous debt to the French–at least the French of the eighteenth century, when they were busy trading fur, selling Louisiana, and financing a revolution solely because it would piss off King George. I guess that kind of blew up in King Louis’ face. Sorry ’bout that.
One thing the French have been doing right, lately, is horror and one of my favorite exports is Alexandre Aja. You remember him from Piranha 3D–the movie that had the stones to show what it would look like if piranhas ate Jerry O’Connell’s dong.
I think I’m pretty much the last person in the horror community to see Aja’s earlier film, Haute Tension/High Tension. It was released in France in 2003, and reached the U.S. in edited form in 2005. I would like to take this moment to tell the M.P.A.A. to suck it hard. This just seems to be a story that keeps repeating, a movie is made and the makers are promptly told to cut it hard or else they won’t get the wide release it needs. What hypocrisy, a pompous secretive group of citizens acting as the moral police, protecting me for my own good, when they probably have volumes of porn in their bedstands and on their hard-drives. Of course, it’s always in the guise of “for the children.” So, you can see a PG-13 war movie with people getting shot to hell with a swelling score but Dog help the public if they see a couple, especially a woman, enjoying sex.
I really despise the M.P.A.A., is what I’m trying to say. Happily, I have the uncut director’s edition in the original language. As I said, I’m very late in seeing this movie. For awhile, I thought it was similar to the Saw series and I really hate Saw. Not because of the violence, I just think that Jigsaw is a moralizing carbuncle who would probably enjoy a circle-jerk with the M.P.A.A. High Tension is a very different story from Saw, I think the moral is something along the lines of don’t be crazy. Stacie Ponder has pretty much beaten me to the sexual politics of the movie, so I’ll direct you there.
The first thing that I would like to address is the elephant in the room–the twist ending. I know that I’m severely late to the movie and should assume that everyone knows what the big twist is. But, I’m betting there are people like me who may not want it spoiled so I’m not discussing it. Feel free to mention it in the comments, though. I saw the movie knowing what the twist was and I kind of wish that I hadn’t. I’ve read that a lot of people didn’t like the twist ending but I really did. It shouldn’t come out of nowhere if you watch the characters’ interactions. Plus, it makes somewhat more sense than what was being shown.
Basically, Alex (Maïwenn) and Marie (Cécile de France) are visiting Alex’s family in the sticks of France. I had no clue that France had sticks but I am willing to accept this. Alex mentions some trouble with local rednecks but says that the family is mostly left alone. Again, France has rednecks? There’s something comforting about that.
The house is seriously isolated, last house on the left isolated. There is a big scary van, nearby, with a big scary man in overalls, being fellated by a dead woman’s head.
Alex and Marie settle down, have dinner, and Marie enjoys a smoke outside while spying on her friend as she showers. It’s pretty clear that Marie is into Alex in a more-than-friends kind of way. Their banter in the car is strained as Marie calls her a slut and a bitch and generally makes fun of Alex. Frankly, I really wanted Alex to hit Marie in the face, dump her on the side of the road, and tell her to find her own way home. Afterwards, Marie goes upstairs and masturbates but is interrupted by the scary overalls man breaking into the house. He decapitates Alex’s dad by jamming his head between the rails of the staircase and then literally knocking his head off with a bookcase. The entire family is dispatched, except for Marie and Alex. He doesn’t know Marie is there and he takes off with Alex in his van. The movie is about Marie rescuing Alex. Until, you know, the twist.
While I enjoyed the movie, I found some of it to be derivative, especially of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Aja claims surprise that the movie has been picked apart the way it has been, but, how can you not with these shots?
Look at those scenes. If you didn’t know that this was from a French movie, where would you think this took place? Plus, the yellow-tint is very similar to the yellowy shots in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Or, look at this shot of the bad-guy.
So you have a grotesque, working-class guy with a saw and you wonder why your movie gets compared to another prominent movie with a chainsaw?
This movie even has a Texas-style lawman.
Honestly, I didn’t care for the opening of the movie. It was a lot of fast cuts and loud music and I was really concerned that this would be another music-video-turned-movie. Thankfully, I was wrong. I actually grew to enjoy the music, especially the high-frequency buzz as Marie is placed under more pressure.
The movie is quite violent, although it’s far from the most violent movie I’ve seen. The blood is very bright and Aja uses buckets of it. Critics made a lot of some of the violence, especially when Marie attacks the scary man with a club wound in barbed-wire. But honestly, you see more gore in a movie like Day of the Dead. I’m thinking of the scenes where the sheet is lifted and that zombie’s entire digestive system falls out or when Joe Pilato’s character is pulled apart by zombies. Personally, I liked the barbed-wire club because I thought it was resourceful.
And, honestly, I thought some of the gore was artistically done and evocative. Like this shot when Marie finds Alex’s mother.
I like the inversion, where the victim is vertical, and the person finding her appears to be horizontal. It’s just a perspective shift but I think it’s neat.
This movie did live up to its title. My roommate snuck into my room when I was watching it and I jumped about a mile. That doesn’t happen to me often so you know the movie at least accomplished what it set out to do. And that makes it successful, at least in my eyes. All I really wish is that they’d kept the name that they used in the U.K., Switchblade Romance. That sounds so very grindhouse.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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