A troubled young woman heads out to the countryside with her best friend to spend some time with said friend’s family. On the night they arrive, the home is invaded by a brutal killer. While the killer makes his rounds through the house, the visiting girl manages to make her guest room look undisturbed, cleans up the bathroom, and hides under the bed, barely escaping detection. However, her friend is not so lucky, and finds herself bound in chains, gagged, and thrown into the back of the killer’s vehicle. The girl who’s eluded the killer comes to tell her shackled friend that she is going to get help, but, while in the vehicle, the killer unwittingly locks her in, too. Still unaware that he is driving around two girls, the killer stops for gas, and the stowaway girl sneaks out of the vehicle and heads inside the gas station and…
What? Why are you holding up your hands?
Oh! I get it. You think I’m giving away the plot of High Tension!
No, no, no; I wouldn’t dream about doing anything like that. Believe me; I hate it when a critic gives away too much about a film in their review. The above paragraph is actually a synopsis of the first half of American horror/suspense writer Dean Koontz’s 1996 novel, Intensity. However, if you’ve read Intensity (or watched the lame American mini-series based on the novel), the first half of High Tension may seem a bit familiar to you as it is, essentially, the exact same story.
Sure, the names have changed, and the setting has been moved from wine country California to the south of France, but, as I watched this film unfold before me, I simply could not believe what I was seeing, nor could I believe that this was all just some sort of cosmic, shit-happens coinky-dink. There are too many things in common between these two stories to be come as a result of simple happenstance. Basically, were I Dean Koontz, I’d be clearing out some space in the vault for the inevitable lawsuit.
Okay, so we’ve established that I found this film to be derivative, but, besides all of that is it any good?
No, not really.
The film’s plagiarized first half is done well, and Cecile’ De France turns in a fine performance as the protagonist, Marie. However, the film comes to a screeching halt when its Scooby-Doo ending picks up a logic bazooka and blasts a hole through the plot so huge that it forms a sort of vortex that devours all memory of anything the film did right. You know an ending is bad when you hear more than a few audible groans in the theater. At this showing these groans were as loud as a Manchester football stadium witnessing England losing the world cup. Still, the film gets some points for director Alexandre Aja’s obvious knack for the atmospheric, as well as the impressive amount of the red stuff, which will please gorehounds to no end.
High Tension is a French import that was originally released in 2003 to much (inexplicable) acclaim. This buzz fueled Lion’s Gate’s decision to pick up the film for an American release. Sadly, Lion’s Gate chose to eschew some of the film’s original French language soundtrack in favor of some truly hideous dubbing, featuring De France doing her own dubs with a thick French accent, while Anna (Maiwenn) and her family are given American accents. I’ve not seen the original French language version of the film, but this version portrays Anna as an American student whose family has only recently moved to France (“six months ago” we are told…twice…within two minutes, as if to hammer the point home). As I said, I’ve not seen the original dub of the film, but this reeks of a lazy plot device hastily concocted to “explain” why Marie and Anna speak English to one another. My question is, why dub the film at all? There isn’t much dialogue to begin with, and Marie only “speaks” English when she talks to Anna (who spends the lion’s share of the film gagged). The rest of the characters all speak French, thus most of the film is subtitled anyway. Was this all some sort of trick to fool American audiences, and gradually ease them into accepting the subtitles? I don’t know, but if the subtitled dialogue is any indication, not much of value was lost in the translation.
In the end, High Tension is a slick-looking film that will probably play well to those unaware that the best parts of the story were told nearly a decade ago by someone else, but I doubt that even the most forgiving of horror fans will be able to look past the film’s clumsy denouement.
That’s a French word.
See? Us Americans ain’t that stoopid.