Montreal Film Journal


I'm not what you would call a horror fan. I can appreciate how some filmmakers use that genre to paint dark and twisted psychological portraits (for instance, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining) and, on the flip side, I also enjoy movies that are so grotesquely violent that it becomes hilarious (The Evil Dead, Dead-Alive). What I don't quite get is "pure" horror, where it's all about an insane killer meaninglessly slaughtering people. Films like Psycho, Halloween and French import "Haute Tension" are effective exercises in style but, as far as I'm concerned, that can grow tiresome.

"Haute Tension" wastes no time in getting to the carnage. We meet Marie (Cecile de France) and Alexia (Maiwenn) as they're driving to Alexia's parents' isolated farmhouse to study for their college exams without being bothered. They get there, are greeted by the family, go to bed and, with Marie barely having time to settle in (and finger herself), all hell breaks loose. A stranger comes in uninvited and starts touring the house, mercilessly slashing everyone he sees.

For more than an hour, the young women run and scream as copious amounts of blood and guts splatter everywhere. The action eventually leaves the house and transports itself into the killer's molester van, in a gas station and, inevitably, deep into the woods. The characters follow horror movie logic (or absence thereof), endlessly finding new ways to back themselves into corners while their assailant manages to get an inch away from their hiding place, then turns away long enough for them to find another corner, etc.

"Haute Tension" is well crafted, with stark cinematography, tight editing and a fittingly abrasive soundtrack. The film's poster promises a blood-covered babe holding a barbed wired picket and the whole film builds up to that money shot. It's followed by an idiotic twist ending that detracts rather than add complexity to what was a pretty straightforward narrative, but at that point no one will be very concerned with story points. If you wanted a lot of gore, you got it. If you expected anything else, this is the wrong movie.