High Tension

Year: 2003
Director: Alexandre Aja
I can't help it, I love twists. I've probably said it before and in honour of this great idea I'll say it again. That's all I can say about the bombshell, clues scattered throughout the movie when you think back.

Thankfully there's plenty more to like about this movie. Taken on pure mechanics, it's every bit as good as Wolf Creek in the distinctive horror genre not just of 'goreno' but of a genuinely nasty experience that fills you with dread, not the good time, monster-mash, roller-coaster kind of horror we're traditionally used to.

This is the sort of movie that says there are people this repellent and situations this genuinely disturbing going on every day, and then shows them to us with all the compassion of a documentary news report and doesn't let up. Unlike Wolf Creek, it manages all that and a jaw-dropping revelation.

If you never thought you'd see an attacker slice a man to shreds with a hand-held band saw – through a car windscreen – and not descend into comedy horror, you've got to watch High Tension (Switchblade Romance, as it was called in other markets).

The ominous sense of impending doom is a sweating, living thing, the villain as grotesque as that of any monster movie, the terror of lead Marie (De France) enough to have you coiled in your set.

She and college friend Alexia (Maiwenn) travel to Alex's rural family home for some time off from school. Once again like Wolf Creek, the banal is given a sense of disquiet as they delve deeper into the country and isolation, particularly after we've already seen the villain's handiwork...

That night after everyone retires, a filthy cargo lorry pulls up at the front door and there's an urgent knock on the door. Marie has been upstairs in her room masturbating while fantasising about Alex, who she's secretly in love with, but she watches the scene out of her window just in time to see Alex's father fall victim to a brutal attack.

For the next 20 minutes we follow Marie as she tries desperately to evade the psychopath stalking the household and get a call out to the authorities while he dispatches the entire family in spectacularly grisly fashion, throwing Alex in the back of his truck where Marie ends up inadvertently locked too – without his knowing.

There's a desperate flight through the night, broken up by a violent coda at a lonely petrol station, before Marie gets her opportunity to strike back at the killer, and it's while the police investigate the security footage from the service station that the bombshell drops.

Yes, there are holes in the twist, and on subsequent viewings they might matter more as you ask 'hang on, how can she be...?', but standing on its own technical merits, this is a blitzkrieg for the senses. The final frame (which I can't give away without blowing the twist) will haunt you all night.

Writer/director Aja went on to do the The Hills Have Eyes remake and his taste for grime and blood shows. In another parallel to Wolf Creek, he started out with a small, zippy, shocking, lo-fi and very effective horror film and now appears to have taken up residence in the spirit if not the locale of Hollywood.

Let's hope he hasn't lost touch, because this is one of the most auspicious debuts in a very competitive and crowded genre.

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