Note to friends and family. This is about a Horror film. Horror is about the vulgar half of our existence. What follows is fittingly vulgar.
Title: High Tension
Director: Some French guy who I didn't bother to remember but I think his name is Ars (he apparently went on to direct the The Hills Have Eyes remake which I'll also be scoping)
Marie and Alex are school buddies. They're visiting Alex's family when a psychopath strikes. Extremely Horrible Shit ensues!
Script/Direction: We'll skip the script for now (but boy will we ever get back to it) because the direction is where it's at. "High Tension" it is indeed. There's a combination of the tried and true "wait for iiiiiiiiit" suspenseful horror of "omg the killers gonna bust thru that door any second!" and a much more modern utter relentlessness when the horror does start to hit. In this movie, you've got thunder clouds booming a long time... but when it rains blood, it pours.
The completely frank brutality of the gory killings cuts through horror cliche like a- well- knife. It doesn't shove the gore in your face to say "whoopee! check this shit out!" What it does is shove your face in the gore. It's there, it's real, you cannot deny it, you cannot escape it. The superb special effects get this done.
But it all works so well because it's not sensationalized. And the best indicator of this is the music. It doesn't blare discord when you're "supposed" to jump. It doesn't play cheap on the strings when you're "supposed" to be tense. If anything, the subtle music just sounds kind of sad while the slaughter of a happy family is being drawn out.
Which segues nicely into the...
Soundtrack: Some cutesy sappy French pop song when the girls are driving down the highway. Some Reggae-hip-hop thing while our "heroine" um... calms herself before the storm... And, mother fucking MUSE at the movie's climax and finale. That there, ladies and gentlemen, is Thee Win.
Acting: Only 3 proper characters. Marie, the main chick; Alex, her friend taken captive; and Le Tuerer the madman whom, when we first meet him, is fellating himself with a [TEH SPOILERZ KICKIN IN] severed head. Yeahhhhh :(
Marie is a really cute butch girly-girl tomboy who is absolutely fucking worthless until she gets ahold of a barb-wire-wrapped fence post towards the end of the film. There's really nothing to like about her until you're seeing the movie for a second time. She's played by some French chick who actually has "France" in her name.
Alex is her dear friend and is played by none other than the Diva Plava Laguna. If you know wtf I'm talking about you win, if not, don't worry about it. She just sits chained up and crying the whole movie.
"Le Tuerer" is a serious fucking psychotic motherfucker. His violence is relentless with just the wrong amount of playfulness, and his obsessiveness is shared with the audience in very disturbing instances of intimacy. You don't doubt for a second what he's all about and there's no doubt he's pure horror. Michael Meyers without the mask (but with the coveralls!). In fact... how his face is obscured and revealed almost subliminally throughout the film is a masterwork of cinematography. He's played by some guy I'd never want to meet because I dunno how a human being could even pretend to be this sick fuck. The character is disturbing because he's not some abstract monster. He's just some dirty fuckin dude!
F/X: Superb (despite an early decapitation that's mostly goofy). The gore, as I said, is realistic and uncensored when you need a bucket of ice water in the face, and then at other times subdued or off camera entirely when it just lets you sit shivering in the puddle.
The Final Word:
Ok... so... the plot. [SPOILERZISHNESSNOTREALLYBUTSORTA]
This is the highly contentious thing. From what I've heard most of the movie is a straight cut and paste of a Dean Koontz book/mini-series, and the rest is a... well... twist
I heard about the plot twist long long ago, mainly from people bitching about how unoriginal it is, and how cheaply tacked on to this film it is. It is indeed one of the more common plot devices in suspense films in the past decade or so, and in most of those films it is completely cheap.
So I was not expecting to approve of it when I finally saw it. I just wanted to see some grisly horror cinema. Well grisly was sure delivered, but I gotta say the story worked out great for me too. Knowing the "twist" actually makes the character of Marie much more interesting and the film all the more intense because of how you realize the film is having you relate to her and the killer. I am a freakin FIEND for stories steeped in character and perspective, so I gotta say I really did appreciate the twist, and found that it blended in with the story as a whole very well. I think the best thing it does, when it's revealed, is give you a punch to the gut after watching Marie's gratifying victory- by assuring you that she can never EVER win.
I think, perhaps, the twist didn't bother me- didn't seem tacked on at least- because of 2 things... 1) I knew ahead of time but mainly 2) I get off on getting into characters' heads. When a film allows me to not just witness but even experience what a character is thinking/feeling... no matter how elating or disturbing... I am very appreciative. This film does this in very subtle ways. If you're not looking to get engrossed in the characters' experiences, you'll probably overlook all the stuff that gives the twist any meaning or value.
I watched the movie in French without subtitles. This is one of two movies I've ever watched like this because I felt I really didn't need to know exactly what the dialogs was, I just needed to empathize with the characters and then sit back and watch mayhem ensue. I feel I was right. (Fun Fact: John Woo's The Killer was the other film I watched with no dub nor subtitles.)