The other day I received High Tension in the mail from good ol’ netfix and sat down later that night to re-watch a movie I’ve not seen since it both captivated and completely alienated me five years ago. High Tension reminds me a lot of the American re-make of Ringu, The Ring, not because they even remotely resemble one another in story or tone, but because both films looked amazing and sounded even better but totally pissed me off in the storytelling department. The Ring is one I always almost buy when I see it at 2nd Time Around in Dayton, Ohio or somewhere else for like $2 simply based on the sound design and visuals, but then I remember the sniveling banalities of the plot and character arcs and toss it back on the shelf, where it always seems to stay…
High Tension didn’t piss me off as much as The Ring, but it pissed me off more. At first glance that sentence doesn’t make sense but when taken in the following regard you’ll see what I mean. Pissed off as in not as much in quantities of flotsam, but more so in the quality of them.
Let me explain.
The Ring bugs me almost from its initial moments. High Tension instead is a remarkably made film; it’s simple and brutally cruel plot, wonderful camera work and gorgeous sound design (Editor – Emmanuel Augeard; Mixer – Didier Lozahic; Recordist – Pierre Andre) and score (Francois-Eudes Chanfrault, whose brilliance I’ve sang the praises of here before) make for a bit of a throwback flick to the late 70’s that stands pretty tall at first as a tour de force of nightmarish happenstance. Hell, aesthetically director Alexandre Aja even hired Gianneto de Rossi for the visual effects. de Rossi of course worked with the often overrated but still legendary director Lucio Fulci on such classics as Zombi and The House by the Cemetery* and his effects are another of the strong elements that build High Tension from the ground up as a great horror movie.
Until the twist.
Whyohwhyohwhyohwhyohwhy the twist? WHY??? I’m sorry, I have heard some decent attempts to assuage this disastrous misstep but none of them make it. The idea that if Marie is traveling with Alex than how can the camera show us the killer sitting in his truck near their destination before they arrive has admirably been discussed as the visualized premonition that ‘this was waiting for her’ there but I still just do not buy it. This is akin to the filmmakers kind of shrugging and saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, but, you know, we had to do something different with it’.
Thing is, no you didn’t.
High Tension would have been fucking perfect just how it was until that stupid twist came in.
AGH! It makes me so mad, because I like soooo much about High Tension and then it just completely blows it at the end.
Oh, well, this is the Yang to Aja’s Ying on his more recent flick Mirrors, where I loved the set design, visuals and score but hated the plot until the last thirty seconds made me fall in love with the thing as a whole. I’ve said before that it’s not always about the destination but the journey, however when you drive all night and end up in Summit, Illinois instead of Chicago, well, you’re gonna be a little bit pissed.
Or a lot.
* I know it is a dick move crediting Fulci as both over rated and legendary but I cannot help the dichotomy I feel for the man’s movies. Zombi is stone cold chilling and my absolute love for The House by the Cemetery is somewhat tongue in cheek (the bat? C’mon, hammy but amazing) but for real. However, The Beyond, a.k.a. Seven Doors of Death, a.k.a. The Plot-less Thing is a ridiculous stringing together of some really disturbing gore scenes with only the slightest nod in the direction of a plot to make them at all parts of the same piece. The gore is just pointless and in poor taste to me when there’s no attempt at a plot (or at least not one the filmmaker takes seriously).