High Tension could’ve been a perfectly adequate slasher, but the ending is one of the most ruinous I’ve ever seen. While attempting to replicate the 80s style grindhouse low budget slasher film, the film nearly succeeds, but generally feels more like actual low budget horror, rather than an homage. There’ve been so many well done throwbacks, that the ways in which this failed are just that much more pronounced: the poor dubbing, the lackluster camerawork, the incoherent plot. Watch a movie like Death Proof if you want to see a more successful take (and a better film).
One positive can be said of the twist: you’ll likely never see it coming—because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s unclear to me what Alexandre Aja was going for, or trying to say.
There’s a trend in New French Extremity films that tends to focus on France’s political climate during the 2000s and french nationalism. High Tension hints at this during the car ride conversation when Alexia says they’ve been hassled by some local rednecks. It’s probably also intended we read the serial killer this way also, given he’s a rural working class guy who for all we know is targeting them because they’re Americans. The nationalist sentiment does seem widespread, given that the gas station clerk’s car has a confederate flag on the back of his car.
But that all kind of goes out the window with the twist.
What’s the twist? It was Marie the whole time, she killed Alexia’s family and took her prisoner. There are a couple parallels or instances of their actions overlapping, like when they both masturbate or how the killings start after Marie goes outside. Maybe we’re meant to think she didn’t come back inside, but instead knocked on the door and killed Alexia’s father.
When the killings began, I did find myself wondering why she wasn’t doing anything but hiding and watching, which was likely meant to be a hint. But it simply makes no sense, and the filmmakers don’t do enough to make the camera an unreliable storyteller.
Making this movie more straightforward—about a xenophobic serial killer—would’ve been so much better. Instead of Marie killing, and subsequently realizing she is him, she could’ve just actually killed him and escaped with Alexia.
Why they went with this twist is beyond me—it’s basically Donald Kaufman’s The 3.