Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“Haute Tension” (aka “High Tension”) – France gives us something close to Torture-Porn

“High Tension” (2003) was on my radar for a long time. This French horror flick was so universally praised that I was destined to watch it. I can understand fully why it received so much acclaim. Sadly, it brought me no joy.

The plot: a French girl drives with her best friend, bound for her parent's idyllic country home; then everything goes to hell (figuratively).

What does this movie promise? Heavy bouts of ultra-violence, atmosphere, great direction, and a fairly decent premise. It delivers on all these things – particularly the ultra-violence, if that’s what you’re looking for. Parts of this film are very well done; many other important aspects, however, stink.

Still, a movie like “High Tension” loses a lot of steam from spoilers. I won't ruin anything for you readers, but suffice it to say that what this film requires little-to-no foreknowledge. And some site’s silly list – I can’t recall if it was AVClub or Cracked or some such – ruined it for me long before I Netflixed the pic. As I queued up the dvd, I was confident that I could make myself forcibly forget or ignore what I already knew.

Where did this movie go wrong? An adherence to horror clichés combined with an intense reliance on suspension of disbelief, I suppose. As the years pass, I wonder if the horror genre loses its punch after too much experience.

I wonder if sprained ankles and cowering by windows have simply gotten so “old” for me that I can’t bear to see them anymore. I also wonder if I’ll ever stop feeling appalled when victims stun a killer and then run away.

Yet I've been pleasantly surprised in recent times. “28 Days Later,” "Shaun of the Dead," and “Black Sheep” are among a slew of smart, high-quality, entertaining horror entries. I can name several others.

Yet for all its ability to create and sustain tension, “HT” was lost me. I walked away with the impression that I'd seen someone running from room to room for over an hour. It was just too manipulative and roller-coaster-esque.

If you’re in the mood for a quality horror flick that’s maybe a half-step below “torture porn,” then you will probably get quite a kick out of “Haute Tension.” I won’t now address the issue of whether “torture porn” should even exist.

But, if you want to know why I didn’t like it, let me ask you something (this won’t include actual examples from the film):
could you sustain your suspension of disbelief if Victim A runs into an attic while A’s dog is slowly tracked down and killed by one man? What if it were a child, not a dog? Would you sustain it if A repeatedly knocks the murderer down and then runs away without finishing the bastard? Five+ times? What if every time A gets away, more deaths occur?

As this movie played out, I found nothing to redeem all the nastiness. More importantly, I lost the mood because the hero hides and watches murders that would obligate anyone to step in. It's clearly a weakness, as cowardice isn’t a central point of the film. French director Aja may have skill and style, but he deserves to lose a lot of points : when a major aspect of your film is not part of your thesis, you've messed up.

“Haute Tension” has a lot going for it. The final scene is chilling; it’s great, well-acted, and it's perfect icing on a mediocre cake. I just wish the rest of the film was so strong… And that you didn't have to be open to extra-intense violence to watch this.

The sort of ride I described before is the real enemy here; I know in my heart that the spoilers did not ruin this film for me. They still get points for effort… BTW, I'm almost done with Bergman - it'll be here next time.


  1. Torture porn emulation is one thing, but have you ever seen fish gut stuffing porn? Good lord. . . what will the japanese think of next?

    On the bright side, at least there are no movies that emulate . . . oh wait. I guess there's always Splash =b

  2. and the Simpsons go to Japan. =)


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