Two friends Marie and Alexia (Cecile de France and Maiwenn) take a break from their studies to go for a visit in Alexia’s childhood home in the countryside. It’s all fun and games until the appearance of a deadly, nameless serial killer (Phillipe Nahon) who butchers the whole family and takes Alexia hostage. Marie, in hiding during the entire ordeal, sneaks into the killer’s small bus and is on the way to a confrontation for the life of Alexia. But maybe it’s not all as it seems.
Oh, Haute Tension, what memories you give me. I first heard of this in 2003, and saw it in 2004 from a bootleg I bought at Visual Arts Comic Book Store (RIP). Watching the first two acts, I was floored. It’s a vicious, scary roller-coaster ride. Cecile De France and Maiwenn are very believable and sympathetic, but De France also does a great physical action. She is much better at keeping her head together through the whole ordeal, since I would be shitting my pants all the way through. Then there’s the killer. He looks disgusting and grimy and ridiculously perverted, and every time he’s on screen he brings a feeling of dread that is truly unnerving. Phillipe Nahon, who is very good in the role of psychopaths as seen in I Stand Alone and Calvaire, is perfectly cast to say the least. Director Aja fills the direction with a lot of tension and scares, creating real suspense instead of just giving your typical ‘boo’ scares. Although to be fair, there is a lot of ‘homages’ to past films, particularly William Lustig’s film Maniac’s bathroom scene which is filmed almost entirely exact, with the exception of the payoff in Maniac. Not to mention gore effects by Fulci alumni Gianetto De Rossi, bringing his typical bloody-but-realistic special effects that made for some truly grisly kills.
Sadly, when the third act comes along, the shit hits the fan. For you pecker-heads who haven’t seen this yet, SPOILERS are ahead. After an intense battle sequence in a greenhouse between Marie and the killer, Alexandre Aja and his screenwriter decided to wipe his ass with the film and give the reveal of Marie and the killer being the same person, which doesn’t make sense from any kind of screenwriting point of view and destroys everything the excellent first two acts create. Since Haute Tension, Aja has become Hollywood’s remake whore, with dull re-do’s of The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors and Piranha on the way. What the hell? Talk about destroying his career. But with all that’s happened since, this is an incredible film in it’s first two acts, and those two first acts and well worth your attention, so watch it. Just try not to vomit when the third act comes.