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On Writing
by Stephen King

. "High Tension" (aka, "Haute Tension")

My main fear was that this horror flick from France was going to become supernatural like most of them do. That element generally comes off to me as the refuge of deficient creativity desperate for a shock or a storyline. While the supernatural context here is simplistic and brief, however, the semblance of reality doesn't rescue it from the run-of-the-horror-mill.

French director Alexandre Aja gives us two college girls, Alex (Maiwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cecile De France) driving to Alex's remote family farm for a study retreat in the country. (When is a setting for a horror flick not remote? And why does a director give one of her main characters her name?)

En route, we're treated to some bouncy French tune on the radio which, as the girls bump around in time with it, demonstrates about the only personal quality we'll ever know about them (except that beautiful Marie masterbates).

Alex introduces her friend to her parents ((Andrei Finti and Oana Pellea), she's assigned the guest room up in the attic and everyone settles down for the night. Enter the slasher maniac (Philippe Nahon) whose loud truck and brazen appearance at the front door just about spoils Marie's intimate revery. Pretty soon, the family's wiped out, the interior is redesigned in red, and the girls are the only survivers in this night of orgiastic butchery.

Marie survives by hiding as the killer comes looking for another victim to carve up. Alex lives on because the killer has other plans for her. She's chained up and dumped into his turbocharged grey van. What he doesn't know as he takes off into the night is that Alex has joined her friend as a stowaway in the grisly vehicle. Since the phone lines at the farmhouse are all cut, it's about the only way to stop the rampage and the psycho doing it.

At some point in the development of this scenario, writers Aja and Gregory Levasseur must have realized that they've played it too straight. Mercy, it can't all be realistic. But, I can't tell you how they went about curing the problem. I can tell you, however, that, while they inject a sexual twist (providing no tension), it goes down as superficial bait for an undemanding crowd.

The film manages to keep running at around 12 volts, with the attractiveness of de France the main charge. I couldn't attest to acting talent on the verbal level since the film I saw was dubbed and because there's not so much dialogue to begin with. Her dubbed voice seemed strained and somehow off a natural beat.

There are, of course, lovers of cheesy, poorly crafted horror flicks, and they are the audience for this slender example. I wish them whatever fun they can wring from the tensions provided. Thinking back, the highest tensions that I felt came from the crackling lights behind the main titles.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Cecile De France as Marie
Nighttime reveries when a killer strikes
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