High Tension

High Tension (2003)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Cecile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes

"High Tension" is a brutal movie. I am not sure if I was too distracted to notice the gore upon my first viewing or just ignored it, but it is there in full force. The first half of "High Tension" is superb. A couple of girls head out in the country to study and put their parting ways behind them for a chance to improve their grades. As we learned in "Alien", "In space, no one can hear you scream". Well, in a deserted farm home, the same rules apply, and the family is given plenty to scream about. "High Tension" has excellent horror movie elements and sets up scenes that are almost too real to handle. While it doesn't have the low budget feel of a "Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer" or "Maniac", the heinous murders in the film dwell with you long after the credits roll. Movies like "A Nightmare On Elm Street" and "Halloween" have evolved into almost a cartoonish look at murderers. They no longer posses the raw feel that drips from the screen in "High Tension". The mask and clever one-liners are absent, leaving us with a slasher flick that relies on mayhem and madness. With "Saw" last year and "Wolf Creek" on the horizon, we may see a new direction in horror movies where realistic situations crash into the sadistic viciousness of the human mind.

This will be a lot of horror fans introduction to Euro-horror. Fans of Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento have been through some of this mayhem before. A major difference between American horror and European horror movies are the death scenes. The MPAA has certainly tamed things for the general audiences. Take a look at the "Friday The 13th" series for a look at how things have calmed down. As the series progressed and developed an audience, the MPAA made sure the violence wasn't too much for the public to handle. You can see how the deaths, though creative, have been toned down since their peak in "Friday The 13th: Part 2". For most of us, the late seventies and early eighties horror movies were as gory as a flick could get. "High Tension" is a glossed look at how the genre has been developing overseas, where blood and gore are an integral part of the viewing experience. Very rarely does a death scene get cut short. The audience is forced to sit through the entire grueling process, leaving no question as to what has happened to the character. For some, this approach is a little too much to handle. For those with a weak stomach, I would recommend finding an 'R' rated cut of "High Tension" to put some distance between your eyes and the gore. Most will opt for the unrated cuts that are on this DVD and revel in how crazy a horror movie can get. For you horror fans out there, here comes some modern Euro-horror. "High Tension" is a great stepping-stone into the sub-genre and shows the potential for a revival of great horror in American audiences.

My only real problem with "High Tension" is the ending. It destroyed my experience when I first saw the movie. I don't want to give anything away, I just don't want anyone to be blindsided, as my friends and I were when we saw "High Tension" last year. For the sake of not ruining the movie for anyone, my only remark about the "twist" is that is really feels like a copout. An ending can make or break a movie, and this one almost broke me. Revisiting the film in Lion's Gate Region 1 DVD did not change my opinion on the second half of "High Tension", but I did walk away with a great appreciation for the build up the first half provides.

"High Tension" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with most horror flicks, this one takes place primarily at night. Though some grain is present during these dark scenes, the overall look and feel of the film is nice. Colors are sharp and the detail level is nice when the camera isn't throwing you off with quick cuts and ultra fast movements.

There are three cuts of "High Tension" available on this DVD. The first (and only one really worth mentioning) is the Original French Language Unrated Director's Cut. It has an aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 track with English subtitles. The deep bass and piercing screams may have your neighbors calling the police if you turn this gorefest up too loud. The track will certainly surround you in the horror by utilizing the entire soundstage. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also available for this cut of the film. The U.S. Unrated cut of the film cuts out a bit of the gore and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. It is presented in both English and French, and gives a decent look at the horror of "High Tension". The final cut is the U.S. English language dubbed version. Attempting to preserve the vision of the movie with an English dub is for the laziest of movie watchers. Though the dub isn't horrible, you wander who can't sit through a relatively dialogue free horror movie with subtitles.

Besides the multiple movie options, the "High Tension" DVD boasts quite a few extras. The commentary track by director/writer Alexandre Aja and screenwriter/art director Gregory Levasseur is very informative and rides a fine line between technical and entertaining. Their accents are not as heavy as you may think, so fans of the movie should check out the track. "Haute Horror: The Making Of High Tension" is over twenty minutes of information about the movie including behind the scenes, interviews, and insight into all aspects of the movie. Special effects fans will enjoy the "Giannetto de Rossi: The Truth, The Madness, And The Magic" featurette. We are given raw footage of some of the most explosive scenes, with an analysis of the carnage from the creator himself. Another featurette, "Building Tension" runs about eight minutes and expands on the "Haute Horror" feature with additional subtleties that aid in the look and feel of "High Tension". Also included are some deleted scenes with commentary from Aja and actress Cecile de France. Though the scenes run over 45 minutes, the true treat here is the conversation during the commentary. The two talk about some of their influences, complimenting the feature commentary track with a fresh voice. Aside from an introduction from Aja and Levasseur, the disc also has a number of trailers for other Lion's Gate films.

"High Tension" is a horror flick reserved for those who have a high tolerance for gore. If you crank up the excellent soundtrack and shut off all of the lights on a dark night, you will be in for a great ride. Though I wasn't a big fan of how the plot unfolds throughout the movie, "High Tension" is certainly worth a look by all horror fans. The ultimate cut of the movie is shown only with a French audio track, but as with most horror movies the dialogue is minimal so you won't have to do much reading. There is a decent amount of extra features to round out the disc and three cuts of the film. Lion's Gate has done a great job taking chances on horror movies and their investment has paid off with "High Tension". This title is certainly recommended for those looking to pop in a scary flick this Halloween.