High Tension (2003)
By: Paul Ryan on September 18, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MRA (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 5.1, English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 87 minutes
The Movie
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur
Country: France
AKA: Haute Tension; Switchblade Romance
Uni students and close friends Marie (Cecile De France) and Alexia (Maiwenn) travel to the countryside to spend some time at the farm owned by Alexia's parents. What should be the start of a pleasant holiday soon turns deadly with the sudden intrusion of a mysterious drifter (Phillipe Nahon). The shy, tomboy-ish Marie is soon determined to save her best friend's life.

But are things really as they seem…?

High Tension marks the breakout film for young French director Alexandre Aja, who recently gave us the remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. It is a striking, stylish and extremely confident film. Moreover, it is intensely scary, even for one watching the film at home on the sofa in the middle of the day. Aja engages all the senses – especially sound – to create a mood of mounting dread and suspense. It's clear early on in this film that Aja is influenced by the early works of Craven, such as Eyes and most apparently, Last House on the Left, but these stylistic influences never drag the film into glib homage. There are some Argento-esque twists and turns, which will thrill some and no doubt infuriate others, but this doesn't detract from the relentless energy of the film.

Cecile De France is excellent as the protagonist, contrasting effectively against Maiwenn's less reserved Alexia, whilst Phillipe Nahon is tremendously, perfectly loathsome as the depraved stalker.

High Tension lives up to its title, and is well worth your time.
Maxime Alexandre's razor-sharp cinematography is well served in this faithful anamorphic transfer. Colors are beautifully rendered and (aside from some intentional grain) there's nary a visual gremlin in sight.
A dynamic Dolby 5.1 mix is on offer, in both French and dubbed English. The sound mix of the film relies heavily on random sounds and background noises and you can hear every little creak, footstep and scream with perfect clarity. Audio sync in the French track is perfect. The English dub makes an interesting comparison piece, with Marie retaining a French accent (whether it is Cecile De France's voice though, is uncertain) and all the other characters given broadly American ones. Oddly, we are provided with two separate, but identical French 5.1 tracks. Strange.
Extra Features
We miss out on a few things compared to other region's releases, most notably a commentary, but the features we do get make up for that nicely.

Making of Featurette (36.18, 4x3 Letterboxed): Subtitled – and I trust this was a victim of translation – The Making of a Survival, this is a very in-depth look at the making of the film. Aja discusses the psychological roots of the tale, as well as its generic forebears (i.e.: Deliverance, Last House on the Left, etc). We see much location footage of the crew at work and Aja is pleasingly frank about working with a tight budget. Co-writer Levasseur is seen next to Aja during much of the feature, but doesn't contribute much. It is quite spoiler-heavy, so don't watch it before the feature.

Cast and Crew Interviews (39.42 4x3) : A lengthy set of interviews with the three leads and veteran make-up artist Gianetto Di Rossi. Cecile De France – looking startlingly different from her appearance in the film - discusses her enthusiasm for the script and physical preparation for the role; Maiwenn gives us a first hand account of what it's like to be semi-naked and covered in fake blood in a freezing Romanian forest, and Phillipe Nahon talks about his nervousness in getting the killing scenes done properly. Di Rossi also offers an amusing anecdote about his prior work on Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters, whilst discussing the impressive list of other directors he has worked with. As with the featurette, don't watch this before the film!

Still Gallery: This is split into two sections: a poster gallery (five international designs) and a photo gallery (twenty eight shots taken on set). Not overly essential, but the posters are interesting.

Production Notes: These are likely taken from the film's press kit, but are still interesting as Aja and Levasseur discuss the genesis of the film, and their own genre influences.

Trailers (1.38, 4x3): The theatrical release trailer for the film in both its French and English versions, the latter carrying the frankly corny British title Switchblade Romance. Both trailers are completely identical aside from the language change in both audio and titles.

Bonus Accent Trailers: Trailers for 9 Songs, Irreversible, I Stand Alone and Lost Things.

Dolby Digital Trailer: It's the desert-themed one, for those who really care.
The Verdict
High Tension is an exceptionally unsettling thriller which is a must-see for connoisseurs of quality horror filmmaking, and hopefully a harbinger of great things to come from its talented director. Accent's DVD is very well presented, with first-rate sound and video, and some interesting extras.
Movie Score
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