Right out of the gate I am going to tell you that High Tension is 90% “great horror” and 10% “one of the worst things I have ever seen.” A difficult dichotomy to be sure, but far from impossible. Like many films of the genre, it starts out sprinting only to trip across the finish line. I’ve gotten ahead of myself, so let me take a step back.
Two female students, Alexa and Marie, are on their way to Alexa’s parent’s home in the country. Shortly after they arrive, a strange man shows up, brutally slaughters Alexa’s family, binds Alexa, and throws her into the back of his truck. Marie manages to stay hidden during this ordeal, but cannot just let this madman kidnap her best friend. The rest of the movie becomes a cat and mouse style horror film wherein Marie desperately tries to get the upper hand on the antagonist and save Alexa.
What surprised me when I first saw this film in 2003 was how well made it was, especially since I never think of French cinema when I think of horror. Set aside that 10% for a moment and you will find a very well shot, crisply edited film that delivers exactly what the title promises, tension. We stay with Marie as the frenetic pace of the film carries us along. We are hiding under the bed, fighting the urge to sob, as the stranger looms above. We hop into the back of the truck to try and save Alexa, only to be locked in with her. When the opportunity presents itself, we try and escape to get help, and if no help will come, we fight. Marie makes the same choices that most of us would make, and that is why it is so easy to get caught up in this story.
Should you find yourself watching this movie, I beg you to turn it off just after the final confrontation with the stranger. You will still have seen a fine horror film. Because while I am still very afraid of the French, what with their loosey-goosey healthcare and their love of Jerry Lewis, it is their inability to properly end a horror movie that scares me most (see also Them).
Written by Drew Martin