Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Switchblade. The Axe. The Buzzsaw: High Tension (2003)

High Tension (Haute Tension) (AKA "Switchblade Romance") (France, 2003)
Starring: Cécile De France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon

It's almost a ritual for every modern slasher fan to see this one particular title at least once; director Alexandre Aja's only French slasher flick and a contender of the genre we love. So boys and girls, it's no surprise, but High Tension is finally here in StickyRed!

For the those out there who are yet to see this cult classic, let me elaborate what went down on this one terrible night: in a nutshell, it's another social gathering between friends and family as college students Alexia and Marie decided to spend a couple of days with Alex's family back at the countryside. They arrive that night and get a quick get-together with the folks, unaware that a sadistic killer will soon come knocking later, filleting family and kidnapping Alex. Surviving the ordeal is Marie, who now has no choice but to go and rescue her friend. Has her decision leads to her own doom, or is there something more from all of this?

High Tension practically defines the very purpose of slasher movies with it's heightened grue and nail-ripping suspense. It's a one-hit wonder that can't be done again, despite the few criticisms made regarding this film's simplistic approach, originality issues (the film's loosely based on Intensity, a book by Dean R Koontz which, in turn, was also made into a TV miniseries) and, the most popular complaint, the twist ending.

The movie's impressive gore is kept within good eye; never have I saw such viscera and guts mercilessly slaughtered on-screen and with all the splatter and blood, the movie's harboring tension grows harder with it. You can say it managed to re-capture the reminiscent 70s nightmarish and near nihilistic scenario, where anything bad can happen, mixed with the dramatized killings of an 80s slasher. Upon doing so, Aja single-handedly added a new classic to French Extremity and a widely recognized title for a 20th century horror. Satisfied gorehounds will clamor for the red stuff and so will thrill-seeking horror fans who praise the film's literal-to-title set-pieces.

Now, any review of this movie isn't complete without explaining it's one true flaw, which  is also its greatest strength; the twist. Over the years, many tried the same gig; some worked, but most didn't. Director M. Night Shyamalan was the first to do this through his hit The Sixth Sense, which leads many to milk this idea over and over again to the point of familiarity. What makes High Tension different from said imitators is that, for some, it improved the viewing; others may find it a pain of a twist but there were clear hints given away through out the movie. There's that sense of artistic illusions crafted to portray a sense of dread that's been hiding under our noses and only a keen eye would easily take note. It's a slasher flick alright and plot twists are a common element, but none of them played it and hid it well enough to trick us all into thinking the expected and catch us off-guard with the unexpected.

The blood and guts theatrics of the film gave a path for Aja to do a lot of mainstream horrifics. Sadly his talents are used, so far, on remakes, stapled thanks to his awesome re-imagining of The Hills Have Eyes. He's yet to do another non-mainstream movie that hopefully gives France the title it deserved as the next powerhouse of foreign horror. Until then, at least he gave us something worth remembering by, with a nice wink at us slasher fans at best!

With 80 minutes of non-stop fast-paced cat-and-mouse antics, you can't go wrong with this one. A plethora of slasher films may try to compete against it but High Tension is special when it comes to its twist. Hearts will definitely bleed, at least for this movie, as one of the greatest slashers to come out in this century and a must see for any fans out there!

1 female head seen
1 dog gutted with razor
1 male decapitated with tea chest (!)
1 female had her throat cut with razor, mutilated
1 boy shot on the face with shotgun
1 male axed on the chest
1 male had his gut sliced open with buzzsaw
Total: 7


  1. It was amazing right until the STUPID twist at the end, which ruined the whole movie for me. Glad you liked it though.

    1. well, i can't change your opinion to the twist; it's really the only thing that divides fans. I like the twist, though, it breaks conventionals, but if that's how you feel about it, then I respect that!