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High Tension | Review

Didn’t ‘Saw’ that Coming

Aja climbs into the bed of a serial killer.

If there is one lesson that the horror movie has taught pop-culture it is that it is never a good sign when the weekend getaway’s destination includes a cottage by a lake or, in this case, a fortified isolated home in the middle of a sea of crop fields. Draped with the combined visual and sound aesthetic that is directly inspired by Tobe Hooper’s classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre – French filmmaker Alexandre Aja’s freight fest wastes very little time in priming up viewers – it pumps the tension amazingly early on and sends the chill-o-meter up like a rocket. Scripted by Aja and Gregory Levasseur (who also was the hand behind the art direction), High Tension is well-filmed, even-paced and maintains a promising outcome until a miscalculated twist bludgeons the enjoyment.

Introducing the killer’s signature early on, the tale follows a short-haired, potentially angry lesbian who somehow manages to slip out of the grips of a psychotic killer. The effective geographical displacement from a secluded country house to a neon-lit gas station demonstrates how the set-up of the screenplay excels at getting everything timed and placed just perfect. Eventually, once the protagonist switches hats and becomes a fighter and no longer a victim – the film takes on an an enjoyable lane which is best demonstrated when she goes behind he wheel of a sports car and when she makes a weapon out of a fence. Despite being covered in blood – the not too bad looking Cécile De France is what would could call a great casting choice for the lead.

While the gore factor will keep horror aficionados satisfied it is in a shot of the protagonist holding her breath underneath a bed or the sequence that shows the safety of an empty public toilet that really does the trick in terms of suspense. With an accompanying score that sends shivers up the spine, Aja doesn’t pullback – he keeps with a gruesome agenda and does a great job at simple narrative items like making sure the psycho remains a psycho instead of a caricature. Up until the bizarre gun episode the film surprisingly holds up very well, but the film’s ridiculous major plot twist in the last 25 minutes or so, does so much damage to the overall enjoyment of the film that it takes away from the experience – much in the same way a poorly-done dubbing job would do.

If there is something positive to withhold from the experience is that this is the makings of a potentially talented filmmaker in the genre – Aja certainly understands how to use the best out of the conventions of the genre, knows what to avoid and knows how to get the tempo up – high marks also go to the film’s editor Baxter. Sometimes it’s more disappointing to witness a film that had potential and which misfires than a bad movie which never becomes anything else, but High Tension should make for a nice addition to Lion’s Gate horror-film library.

Viewed in Original French language.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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