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By Eric Campos | June 22, 2004

Warning! Some possible spoilers lie ahead. Nothing too major, but if you want to experience this movie proper, you’ll skip this review until you actually see it.

Hype can be a harsh bitch, often leading to blue balls for many a movie nerd. “Haute Tension” is one of those films that’s built up quite a bit of hype over the past year as it’s hopped from festival to festival, causing audiences to praise its gritty, in-your-face violent approach to the slasher film that really hasn’t been seen since David Hess was forcing girls to piss their pants in the 70s. Alexandre Aja’s film has also caused quite a bit of confusion amongst audience members – more on that later. Love it, hate it, or just don’t know what to think about it, some major debate has brewed over this brutal French film. “Haute Tension” has a lot to live up to and after eluding me for the past six months, I’ve finally had the chance to see what all the jibber-jabber is about.

All reports that this is one bloody brutal flick are right on. It’s horror just like it should be – good and ugly. There’s nothing pretty here, no comic relief to give you a breather from the extreme violence and nothing safe to cling onto while you’re guided through this blood caked house of horrors. Female college students Marie and Alex head to Alex’s parents’ country home for a little R&R. Not long after they arrive, a stranger pulls up to the home in his rusty old truck (very similar to the “Jeepers Creepers” mobile actually) in the middle of the night and performs a home invasion that would make Henry and Otis proud. Alex’s family members are slaughtered, their demises made all the more grisly by makeup FX from Gianetto De Rossi, a former partner in crime of our dearly departed Lucio Fulci. The gore here is cause for much celebration for gorehounds. But just as one is bound to get giddy over the graphic brutality on display, you’re smacked right back down into the reality of this nightmarish situation that these two girls have found themselves in and your stomach gets twisted into knots once again. Alex and Marie must fight for their lives as the party soon moves out of the house and into the sinister contryside darkness with hope for escape extremely goddamn slim.

It’s a tense ride for sure and it’s made all the more so by a creepy sound design – the sinister score that often sounds like The Boredoms in a bad mood mixed with sound effects that are just as graphic as the gore being splashed across the screen go a long way in making this film the tough customer it is. The film looks great, too. Yeah, it’s brutal to behold, but it’s shot by someone who knew what they were doing and obviously loves horror films, so in that sense it’s extremely attractive. And the performances here do their job as well. The parties in danger do their all to convey their utter terror, making you feel a victim yourself. But most notable is the killer. His performance is properly creepy and menacing, but it’s the filmmaker’s idea of him that’s the most impressive. There’s nothing cool about this killer. He doesn’t wear a mask, he doesn’t have a limp, he’s not equipped with a voice modulator, he’s not horribly disfigured, he’s not good with the one-liners – he’s just a creepy old bastard with a penchant for bloodshed. That totally won the whole thing over for me. The filmmaker realized that there didn’t need to be any kind of dressing for this turkey, he’s just a bad sumbitch and he may even remind you of your cranky neighbor…if you have a cranky neighbor. This creep is real. In just a dirty jumpsuit and cap, he’s one of the most frightening screen villains from the past ten years. So, yeah, I guess you can say “Haute Tension” was living up to its hype like a m**********r…

…and then it happened.

If you’ve been following the hype surrounding this film, you’ll know of the mysterious twist ending that most reviewers have said ruins the rest of the film preceding it. Most of these reviewers’ write-ups start out glowing, calling the film the very thing that horror fans have been begging for, a no bullshit nightmare that not only delivers the goods but jams them down our greedy throats with a big rubber dick…something to that effect anyway. But then the reviews will take a dark turn, warning readers of a twist that will force many to leave the theater angry, feeling outright f****d over by the filmmaker. I took in these countless reports and found it hard to believe. Fullofshitidis was what I was chalking it all up as. There’s no way that an ending, no matter how goofy or ham-handed, could ruin a movie that started out as a dream come true. I took it as a childish challenge. Upon seeing it, I wanted to prove these guys as a bunch of whiny turds. In this day and age, it’s a miracle if we get a horror movie that’s half decent, so if this one is amazing all the way up to the very end when it supposedly craps out, that’d be just fine with me.

Color me f****d.

In the entire wide world of sports have I never seen a movie screw itself as hardcore as this one does with its bullshit twist ending. When you first take it in, the first word that comes to mind is – LAME. It’s f*****g lame. We had a deal going on here, movie. You were giving me a straight-forward terrorizing, but then you go and crap on my heart. But it gets worse. Only a few seconds after, you stop paying attention to what’s happening on-screen and you start reflecting back on the grisly events and realize with stark, raving horror that this twist has blown so many gaping holes in the movie that it almost doesn’t exist. With anger rising, you’ll wish that an usher come over and smack you upside the head with a bat, knocking you out and thwarting you from partaking in your very own homicidal rampage.

“You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

This was my initial reaction. It’s like I had won the lottery only to find out a couple of hours later, after soaking in inner-contentment and joy, that the whole thing was a practical joke. I could hardly see straight walking out of the theater I was so angry and if I had seen a police officer I would’ve kicked the sonofabitch in order to get thrown behind bars where I belonged. I lost the challenge. The other reviewers were right. If I had one disagreement with them it was that they all downplayed how bad this twist is. What I saw was downright criminal and perhaps the biggest movie blunder of all time.

Again, this was my initial reaction.

Now I’m hammering out this review a couple of days later after seeing the movie and I’m happy to report that no harm came to anyone. The film’s been on my mind the whole time and the major thing that’s bothered me is that I couldn’t believe a filmmaker, especially one that was doing so well up to a point, would be so ignorant about his baby. Just abandon it and then kick his audience in the ding-ding. And now that I’ve had time to think about what happened, I’ve actually patched up one of those gaping holes by remembering the little details going on around it. And while writing this review, I’ve started to see how maybe some of the other holes could actually work out as well. There’s something fishy going on here. And I’ve noticed in some of the other reviewer’s write-ups that they smell something funny too. I need to see this one again to figure out if it’s the world’s biggest cinematic blunder or if it’s a work of blinding genius and when I do, I’ll post an update to this review. I predict that it’ll be sitting right in the middle for me – not the enraging piece of s**t that I originally thought it to be, but not the work of genius that maybe it thinks it is. I foresee a lot of holes getting patched up by the smallest of details missed the first go-round, meaning that the filmmaker actually engineered his movie to elicit a reaction of pure hatred towards he and his work upon first reflection, those that dig further, however, may find the real prize. But there are just too many of those holes for them all to be repaired. When I see things a little clearer, I bet there will still be issues.

So this is a new challenge of sorts – to find the hidden movie in “Haute Tension.” Of course it could all be bullshit and the movie really is a major faux pas. Only time will tell. When next we meet.

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