“I won’t let anyone come between us anymore”
First things first, if you haven’t seen or heard of this film, where on earth have you been? Haute Tension was at the vanguard of The New French Extremity. A cinematic tour de force, Haute Tension is a magnificently twisted cat & mouse thriller that until the arrival of Pascal Laugier’s incredible Martyrs, stood at the pinnacle of French horror cinema.
Haute Tension begins with Marie (Cecile de France) & Alex (Maiwenn le Besco) travelling by car to Alex’s parents house where they will stay for the weekend. Marie has just woken from a bad dream. Once the women arrive at the house Alex gives Marie a tour of the house & they eat a late supper before heading to bed. Unable to sleep, Marie lies on her bed listening to music & masturbating. She is disturbed by the sound of the front door bell. Marie watches from her door at the top of the stairs as Alex’s father answers the door. The man at the door slashes Alex’s father with a straight razor. The killer (Philippe Nahon) then pushes the father’s head between two rails on the staircase & pushes a bookcase along the side of the staircase, decapitating the father. The killer then goes from room to room murdering Alex’s family & taking her hostage in his van. Marie manages to avoid being found by the killer & hides away in the van with Alex as the killer drives away.
The name Haute Tension (High Tension) sums this movie up perfectly. Once the killer’s van leaves Alex’s parents house with the two women in the back, the movie becomes a game of cat & mouse between Marie & the killer. Director Alexandre Aja has created a movie which keeps escalating the tension to almost unbearable levels. The scene in the petrol station toilets really amps up the atmosphere & creates a palpable air of claustrophobia. I have to mention the cinematography by Maxime Alexandre, the film is one of the best looking films you will ever see. The scenes in & around the greenhouse are visually stunning. The three central actors all give wonderful performances, Nahon gives the role of the killer a real sense of menace. Maiwenn le Besco is excellent as Alex, her portrayal of a woman in the grip of utter terror is spot on. But it is Cecile de France whose performance steals the film. Her portrayal of Marie is exceptional. The movie has a much talked about ending which I obviously won’t spoil here, but it is an ending that seems to divide people 50/50 if they think it makes the movie or think it ruins the picture. Personally I think the ending is perfect. I must also point out that this film is explicitly violent, while not as brutal as Martyrs or Inside, the violence & bloodshed is still very strong & is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
If you haven’t yet seen Haute Tension then, quite frankly you are missing out on one of the best horror/thrillers ever made. Since the success of Haute Tension, Aja has carved a career out for himself in Hollywood, first with the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, followed by films like Mirrors & now seems to be making movies for 14-year-old boys (Piranha) Haute Tension remains his best film, one can only hope that one day he fulfils the promise shown in this movie. A true classic.