The Last House on the Left meets Psycho in this stylistically thrilling but ultimately tedious French import, dubbed and recut for an Americanized R rating. Director Alexandre Aja has recently been tagged to helm the remake of Wes Craven's giddy take on the Sawney Bean cannibal family, The Hills Have Eyes, and watching High Tension it's easy to see why. He directs from the gut, in more ways than the obvious, and this gruesome, hyper-violent tale of rural stalkings and nameless dread plays like early Wes Craven minus the warped social commentary.
C & eacute;cile De France plays Marie, a young Parisian who travels to the countryside with girlfriend Alex (Ma & iuml;wenn Le Besco) on holiday only to find herself the fancy of a truck-driving maniac (Philippe Nahon) with a penchant for creatively murderous acts. You'd think the dubbing would get in the way of the story, but there's so little dialogue (and so little story) that it hardly registers. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Aja's film is a minor masterpiece of cutting, edited within an inch of its life and genuinely disturbing at times. It's also saddled with one of the most annoying third-act reversals of misfortune yet seen on film, and one that makes its forebears (Hitchcock, De Palma) seem all the more like geniuses. For horror fans, though, it's a blast, chock-full of mangled bodies and enough blue and red gels to light a Dario Argento film. Aja's horrific set-pieces, including a highly creative death-by-armoire and the best use of a two-by-four since Buford Pusser walked tall, are drenched in the kind of surreal, overwrought style that defined Euro-horror in the '80s. The director clearly knows the field, and High Tension is a gripping piece of splatterpunk, despite the fact that there's not much to it.
De France, with her shorn locks and sweaty, manic physique, plays to the story's middling strengths, mainly running around and watching people die in clever ways until it's time to off someone in similarly imaginative fashion; she's like Jean Seberg on a crystal-meth bender. Much has been made of this film's violence, and while the Lions Gate version in current release has been cut, the vast majority of Aja's intended gore remains gleefully intact. High Tension may have something to say about repressed urban blondes, but the message, if there is one, chokes on a mouthful of the red stuff and gets lost on the way to the grave. That's probably for the best. Shockers of this crimson stripe don't necessitate subtext, although as Wes Craven surely knows, it never hurts to have one.