Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Cecile De France, Maiwenn, Philippe Nahon
Director: Alexandre Aja
Audio: French Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 11, 2005


Film ***

If there’s one thing that French filmmakers have demonstrated, it’s that they are true to film genres. Two of the best action films of this year, Hostage and the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, have come from a French visionary. And now the horror genre has returned to its bloody roots with the glorious gory High Tension.

Director Alexandre Aja and screenwriter Gregory Levasseur are horror movie fanatics, and if that doesn’t qualify as proper credentials for making a pure horror movie, then I don’t know what is. Aja and Levasseur grew up, like many horror fans, on the films of the 70s, particularly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the early works of Wes Craven. They made this film with the intention of bringing the horror genre to the French film market, which I’m sure it certainly will.

High Tension is a true homage to the popular gorefests of the 70s with a psychological twist. The truth of the matter is that the film is perhaps the most eerie and disturbingly effective horror movie since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or even The Last House on the Left, meaning it takes no prisoners and is not intended for the squeamish. Although the movie ends with a twist that keeps it from being a complete masterpiece, the overall effect is nonetheless shattering.

The story opens with best friends Marie (Cecile De France) and Alexia (Maiwenn), traveling to Alexia’s family home in the French countryside for a weekend away from college. Even though they are happy to be away from campus for just a couple of days, Alexia reminds Marie that they still have studying to do. Before they get there, Alexia decides to play a spontaneous game of nighttime hide and seek in a corn field near her home.

They arrive at their destination and are settled in quickly. But their vacation takes a nightmarish turn when a hulking menacing madman arrives at their doorsteps and unleashes an unimaginable massacre. Marie is frightened beyond words. She succeeds in hiding from the killer’s clutches, but it can’t stop her from witnessing several grisly killings.

Having murdered everyone in her family, the killer takes Alexia as a hostage. From this point on, the movie becomes nearly free of dialogue, as the primary concern is Marie getting from spot to another in order to save her friend’s life. Hardly ever has a single movie created a more authentic predator and prey scenario.

There are two key elements in High Tension that play a big part in delivering a chilling effect. They are cinematography and the sound. The camera follows Marie’s every movie with such eerie detail in a number of key scenes that you swear she’s really fighting for her life. And the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in any horror movie, as it helps in multiplying the effect of the already terrifying sequences of terror.

As I mentioned earlier, the movie throws a surprising twist, and while other fright-fests like Saw and Identity have pulled this off successfully, it’s perhaps the one flaw that keeps High Tension from being the horror masterpiece it could’ve been. Nevertheless, the twist allows for an even bigger dose of blood and gore that will definitely have you ducking for cover. Let’s put it this way, I am never going anywhere near a power saw for as long as I live thanks to this movie.

If you think that horror movies have lost their touch since the heydays of Hooper, Craven and Argento, then you’re in for a real treat. High Tension is a film that knows its audience and what they’ve come to see. The movie is pure triumph of unrelenting terror and gore.

Video ****

Lions Gate’s anamorphic presentation is downright amazing. As I mentioned before, the cinematography serves as a key element in the movie’s overall effect, and the video presentation does this notion absolute justice. About 90 percent of the movie takes place at night, and the image quality does not falter a bit even with this challenging circumstance. Many set pieces, most notably the finale in a woodsy area, display amazing visual impact.

Audio ****

Likewise with the sound, Lions Gate has delivered one outstanding transfer. For this Unrated release, the sound is offered in multiple formats. The 5.1 mix is offered in both French and English, but if you want the full effect, I suggest going with the original French director’s cut in 5.1, because if you go with the American version you are going to get a mildly bad dubbed edition that takes the effect away. The 5.1 mix on the French version is astounding, and delivers the kind of jolt that we come to expect from this genre on DVD. Right from the opening sequence, your speakers will be rocked, to say the least. What lies ahead is nothing but strong, dynamic sound!

Features ***1/2

Lions Gate has done this disc quite right with the extras. Featured is a commentary track with director Alexandre Aja and screenwriter Gregory Levasseur, as well as an introduction. Also included are selected scenes with optional commentary with the Aja and actress Cecile De France,  as well as three well made featurettes; “Haute Horror: The Making of High Tension”, “Building Tension” and Gianetto de Rossi: The Truth, The Madness, and The Magic. Rounding out the extras is a lengthy Lions Gate trailer gallery.


High Tension is dynamite illustration of hardcore horror cinema. If you feel that a little something’s missing from today’s traditional scary movies, then I can’t recommend this film enough. It will do nothing short of satisfy your bloody horror fix!

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