May 10, 2014

Queer Review: High Tension (2003)

High Tension
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Alexandre Ajas and Grégory Levasseur
Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea, Marco Claudiu Pascu

As a slasher flick, there are times when High Tension succeeds as a bloody descent into pure horror. However a third act twist causes the proceedings to wind up reveling more in homophobia, than the workings of the Grand Guignol.

Marie (Cécile De France) and Alexia (Maïwenn) travel to the French countryside to visit Alexia's family. However, it isn't long before a demented serial killer shows up, kills the family and kidnaps Alexia, while Marie sneaks a ride in the back of his truck. What follows is a tense cat and mouse game, with Marie alternatively trying to free Alexia from the killers chains or seeking a means of signaling for help from authorities.

The Queering
(Spoilers ahoy! as there is no way to analyze this film without explicitly discussing the nature of the twist itself)

High Tension is gory, make no mistake, but the pacing and suspense level are kept high enough that it still manages to be an entertaining thrill ride, at least until the twist ending introduces homophobia by invoking the psycho lesbian trope. Typically, I am not one who goes for a lot gore in my films, but this particular horror endeavor is slickly enough made that the splatter element didn't bother me. Although I will admit to a few moments where I was paying more attention to the inside of my eyelids than what was occurring on screen. Basically, this falls comfortably within the realm of torture porn, a genre I generally avoid. The score (which for whatever reason reminded me of the one from Halloween) and the gritty - yet stylish - cinematography come together to create an atmosphere of pure dread.

However, the ending cannot be ignored, as it informs everything that happened before. As the "big reveal" reveals, the "killer" was Marie all along, and she simply hallucinated him into existence in order to disassociate herself from the terrible acts that she commits. It is a ludicrous twist, one that has been done before (although not quite like this), and requires that the audience accept that an entire car chase occurred only in Maries' mind. That's not even it's worse sin, as the reason why Maria turns into a killer in the first place is because of her sexual attraction to Alexia. Thus Maries' descent into madness and subsequent murder spree are intractably linked to her sexuality. In other words, the twist manages to be both ableist and homophobic at the same time.

There is nothing terribly original about this movie, which is neither good or bad as far as I'm concerned. There are plenty of references and nods to past horror efforts. This makes sense given the horror genre's tendency towards self cannibalism. Reviewers who liked the movie called these references homages, while those who took a dim view labeled them "rip-offs". I bring this up only on the off chance that someone out there was wondering what the difference between a "homage" and a "rip-off" happens to be.

In spite of being well made, there is no need to go to high lengths to see this (unless one really likes torture porn), the low tension road should work just fine.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4.


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