The concept for "High Tension" is simple. In its simplicity, it allows itself to embrace two things that make Horror films great: atmosphere and shock. In this basic combination of these two elements is where "High Tension" truly shines and ably shows us just how intense the French can be when it comes to their Horror films. Although it does garner a bit of sass from fans for its out there ending, "High Tension" is a sleek and relentless monster of a film that will make you jump, cringe, and borderline cry.
Marie (De France) and her friend Alex (Le Besco) are going to Alex's parents house in the country to stay and do some well needed studying. But the first night they are there, a mysterious man in a truck shows up and starts killing off family members. Marie struggles to stay alive in the slaughter, but when the man takes Alex into his van, still alive, she realizes she must save her friend from certain death. Now its a battle between the mysterious killer and a determined young women hellbent on saving her friend. Or is it?
Alexander Aja certainly struts his stuff with "High Tension". As co-writer and director, he is the one that deserves most of the praise for this shocker of a film. As it was mentioned before, the storyline is very simple. You HAVE seen it before. Mysterious killer. Trying to survive. Tides turn as hero decides they have had enough. ABC's of Horror right there. Even with its twist ending, "High Tension" is your basics. Its how the basics are done that makes it so damn exciting.
Aja makes this movie so damn tense with atmosphere that watching our heroine Marie becomes an agonizing experience. With his close up shots (including lots of eye work), a spectacular use of sound (silence, sound effects like the killer's breathing and squeaky boots, and music), and the odd lighting effects that give it a surreal look, Aja takes this story and turns it into an atmospheric decent into hell. Then of course, to balance that out, he uses very realistic bursts of extreme violence to break the spell. Normally, a Horror film will rely on jump scares or a it of humor to release audience torment. Not Aja. He uses moments of gore and brutality to make the audience breath, even if its to only gasp or cry out. With its sleek visuals and more than apt pacing, "High Tension" truly feels like riding a roller coaster.
The film also builds on this great 'good vs evil' ideology well. Our heroine gets a quick and nice build up and her arc still moves throughout the ordeal, not to mention the acting is superb here particularly in the third act, and our villain remains conspicuously as this blank thing of unknown motives and collected insanity. This does have its reason in the end, but even prior its this lack of knowing that makes him even scarier and more threatening. The two match up well throughout the film as they begin to battle it out and it makes it for a fascinating watch.
With its superb acting from a (basically at its core) two party cast and the sharp as a razor vision and directing of Aja, "High Tension" is some of the best when it comes to modern Horror. It balances the tension and shock like a pro and never eases on the gas. Even if the ending leaves a few questions unanswered and logic unfulfilled (in my opinion, it works quite well this way although others will disagree) "High Tension" is a hell of a ride getting there.
BONUS PRAISE: Is there anything scarier than a maniac that with a circular saw? Definitely in my top 5 scariest villain concepts.
Written By Matt Reifschneider