The old chestnut of a storyline seen countless of times since the original 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' gets put to use once again in French director Alexandre Aja's slasher horror film 'Haute Tension,' translated into English as 'High Tension' and released stateside in a cut and partially dubbed form by Lions Gate Films, a company long praised for releasing films larger and more image-conscious studios won't touch. Sometimes this strategy backfires, such as when they released Rob Zombie's abominable 'House of 1,000 Corpses' in April of 2004 (somehow, a sequel in the form of 'Devil's Rejects' is set to be released in July'). The question then becomes whether the aforementioned strategy is put to good use with 'High Tension', grisly horror film I'm sure most other studios found too macabre to give too much consideration into acquiring the rights.
You look tres chic covered in plasma, mon cherie
Then again, maybe the fact that Lions Gate Films was 'Tension's' only suitor because the film is thoroughly cliché (thanks to a script Aja fashioned along with Grégory Levasseur) despite satisfactory camera work and some taut direction by Aja. The film becomes downright infuriating as it barrels towards a conclusion that is supposed to be surprising (and it is) but ends up also raising numerous plot inconsistencies that are left unaddressed.
A short summary of the plot involves two college friends (Cécile De France and Maïwenn Le Besco) who travel to the latter's farmhouse out in Southern France's vast countryside. Their idyllic study period is brutally interrupted when a grunting killer (Philippe Nahon) goes about killing the house's occupants one by one. Pretty soon the two girls are the only ones left and they must fight for their survival as the killer sets about stalking them.
First off, it seems prudent to detail what the film gets right in its quest for horror nirvana. Director Aja lends the film a suitably oppressive atmosphere through the expressive use of lighting, or the lack thereof, given the film's genre. He also is able to lend a sufficient amount of tension to much of the film's scenes, utilizing oblique camera angles and jarring close-ups to bring a sense of reality and tension (pun intended) to the final product. The film also benefits from a decent performance by way of lead Cécile De France ('Around the World in 80 Days'). She brings credibility to her portrayal of fear and terror through the use of expressive facial expressions (the film is anything but dialogue heavy, especially once the setup is complete).
It then becomes rather dispiriting to report that much of what the film gets right is thrown by the wayside with a twist ending that fails miserably in its attempt to surprise and astonish the audience. Instead, it is likely to bring about reactions not unlike Barry Bonds on steroids. It is a bit of an understatement to say that the twist is a love it or hate it situation. In fact, it is the epitome of that particular descriptive. This reviewer found it to effectively nullify most of whatever good the film had built up during the prior 70 or so minutes, leaving the viewer with a film that shows promise early but elicits frustration and disappointment in the end.