I love slasher films, I go ape shit for them, and when I read about “Haute Tension” I went nuts especially after watching the trailer when I went to see “Saw” in theaters last year. Modern slasher films have been incredibly watered down with very little gore, and just nonsensical casting, hiring young hip actors to portray the victims. I always say that these days the best films are the foreign films, and the best horror films are indeed the foreign ones, and “Haute Tension” is no exception. This is a great film that was just so reminiscent of Argento’s gory style, with a killer that is awfully scary.
This does not pretend to be anything more than what it is; it’s a straight up, gory, and really disturbing slasher film that relies mostly on tension (hence the title) and silence to convey its atmosphere instead of cluttering it up with supporting characters whom are just set up to die. The deaths of the characters in this film actually tugged at my heart and were incredibly extreme, and it continues on like that from beginning to end. Alex and Marie are two friends whom are headed home to Alex’ house which is a farm set down at a deserted countryside where they’ll be studying for the weekend and hanging out, that is until a demented lunatic sets his sights on the family. After murdering the entire family, he kidnaps Alex and now Marie must track him down and attempt to save her, but as the chase continues things aren’t quite what they seem.
What I loved particularly about this film, not only because it’s foreign, but because we actually have a straight-forward maniac chasing a plain looking (I found her hot) heroine. The maniac is not some pretty face, and Cecille DeFrance is one of those female heroines who gets down and dirty in an attempt to fight the maniac. France isn’t a young actress who sings nor can she be seen on the WB in a teen drama, which makes her all the more appealing. Director Alexandre Aja manages to create one of the most layered and suspenseful slasher films ever made since “Halloween” and while displaying often disturbing scenes of graphic violence, the film’s main point is its atmosphere and tension as these two people play a game of cat and mouse trying to outwit one another relentlessly. The film continuously runs on a loop of a pretty plot-less and utter pointless violence and gore which becomes an exercise in snuff and brutality that didn’t satisfy any need I had for a true horror movie.
Then what emerges within the second half of the film is quite possibly one of the most cheesy plot twists I’ve ever seen, and Aja tries to make an esoteric thriller with a twist, when really it’s just trying too hard. He hasn’t done enough with making one of the best slashers in years, he just has to add a twist. I was caught up in the entire narrative all the way through and then the plot twist halfway through completely threw me out of the storyline with a plot twist that while ambitious was forced, very trite and so clunky the audience won’t gasp in shock, they’ll definitely groan in disappointment. Ultimately, I just didn’t buy it, nor could I bring myself to accept it, and it was just a cringe inducing development that screamed amateur.
It just left a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of open-ended plot aspects, and a gaping plot hole. There was really no need for the plot twist and drastic character development in the second half of the film, because most of it was all just basically compelling and disturbing to watch this killer and woman play cat and mouse and I was just wide-eyed in horror and engrossed, but the movie ultimately tries to be too stylish and smart for its own good and takes that conceptual approach by the second half which just screamed of the writer trying to gain attention of the mainstream audience with a movie that was basically destined for underground status. The movie continues along after the clunky plot twist on a loop of repetitiveness that reminded me a lot of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.
The finale is very derivative of the original film with the basic chase and twist ending that was really just forced and utterly derivative, thus becoming very disappointing for a movie that basically showed a lot of promise. It looks like the writer wanted to break out of the basic cat and mouse story, so in an attempt to change the process, he just ruined what was becoming a truly gruesome experience. And I’m still not sure what the title means, or what parallel it holds to the plot or its surprise twist, “Switchblade Romance” makes more sense when you get down to it. There are some truly great sequences in the film, sometimes too many to count, and Aja truly motivates the audience to keep watching and wondering where the story is going. Cecile DeFrance is a very sexy and very relatable anti-heroine who must rely on her speed to outwit this monster, and she’s also an excellent actress as can be noticed through many of the early scenes, but the films true power lies not in the acting but in the suspense since there’s barely any dialogue at all.
About sixty percent of the movie consist of silent scenes where the two characters are sneaking around trying kill one another. The film, or at least the cut I saw was truly one of the most gory films I’ve seen in years since Hollywood mainstream mostly just relies on cutaways, but it’s nice to have a horror film for once that shows you the full horror of graphic violence in all its glory like director Dario Argento did before he was brushed away in to obscurity by the mainstream. The deaths of the family members in the opening are very disturbing to watch and listen to and Aja doesn’t cut away. I saw the uncut version which truly showed much of the gory gruesome deaths the cut version in the US will likely edit to decrease the effect. Regardless, who knew a modern horror film could still make me cringe? Phillipe Nahon is simply amazing as Le Teuer, probably one of the most menacing, disturbing figures of horror in recent years as the often silent brutal murderer without a conscience and really manages to hold the audiences attention with his incredible presence.
The whole film is an exercise in sexual obsession as the maniac wields his razor blade like a phallic symbol he uses to rape his victims which he takes great sexual pleasure in, all of which leads to a surprise plot twist in the film that will either amaze some or piss off others. But the true icing on the cake for me was the disturbing last scene Aja includes that ends abruptly and just left me breathless. Truly “Haute Tension” will be a breath of fresh air the horror genre so painfully needs and will hopefully teach current directors to embrace such horrible acts is to embrace horror, and its fans, and Aja embraces fans. Disturbing, demented, gory and one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a while with a script that is purely based on terror, all of which is ruined by the second half of the film which excels at one of the cheesiest plot twists I’ve seen in years. Regardless it’s an excellent slasher film and the sexy Cecile DeFrance, and menacing Phillip Nahon give excellent performances. It’s a must-see for any self-respecting horror fan.