High Tension

The French countryside provides a haunting backdrop for this chilling thriller about two women trying to outwit a psychopath who has followed them home from school. What starts off as a quiet weekend in the country for Marie (De France) and Alex (Maiwenn) quickly escalates into a horrific game of cat and mouse, pitting the two young college friends against an unknown, vicious and unrelenting assailant.

The screenplay for High Tension, written by director Aja and Gregory Levasseur, is extremely linear, a simple throwback to the strong-willed damsel in distress thrillers such as Wait Until Dark, See No Evil, Halloween, Lady in a Cage, and to some degree, The Hitcher. There’s something visceral about watching female victims turn the table on their attackers, and High Tension rates among the best, a wicked mind game that constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Aja doesn’t waste any time throwing us into his crimson soaked vision, teasing us with a nightmare and then literally tossing the characters into the middle of one. As High Tension opens, Marie awakens from a dream with lasting implications. There’s not a lot of dialogue in High Tension, but every word is an important piece of the puzzle. As the two women drive to the out-of-the-way country farm house belonging to Alex’s parents, they cross paths with a stranger in a truck. What he’ s doing is better left to the imagination, but when he tosses a woman’s head out the window, the reference was not lost on this reviewer.

Neither were the casual homages to the family of slasher films which preceded High Tension, little nods where Aja and Levasseur acknowledge they’re working from crib notes. Once they set up the premise, the filmmakers deviate from the notes and come up with a hybrid that redefines the genre, a gender-bending horror film with a mind of its own.

After watching the stranger slaughter Alex’s family and abduct her, Marie leaps into action, taking heroic measures to save her friend. Nail-biting suspense accompanies Marie’s attempts to free Alex from the backseat of the killer’s truck before he returns, suspense which escalates as Marie eventually comes face to face with the killer.

The director’s razor sharp direction and the actor’s tightly wound performances never let the audience off the hook. Once the ride begins, you’re forced to endure some nasty twists and turns which frequently catch you off guard. Those who attempt to guess the outcome before all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place will get the wrong picture.

French Fried Grand Guignol

High Tension

Cecile De France, Maiween Le Besco, Philippe Nahon. Directed by Alexandre Aja. 91 Minutes. Rated R.

Larsen Rating: $7.00

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