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June 29, 2005

High Tension

Alexandre Aja - 2003
Chinese Region 3 DVD

It's no surprise that Alexandre Aja's next film is to be a remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. Even before I read interview after interview with Aja naming Craven as an influence, High Tension made me think contantly of Last House on the Left because of the brutal nature of this film. With a scene that is reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I was left with the impression that if Aja had his way, he would have been the house director for New Line back in the early 70s when low budget splatter films were their bread and butter.

I opted to see this film on DVD in order to see it unedited and in French. From what I understand in Aja's interviews, the film was partially dubbed as well as slightly cut in order to get the film as wide a release as possible. As it turned out, the audience that showed up for remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror stayed away. Unlike a film like The Blair Witch Project that creates a sense of constant dread, but doesn't show anything, High Tension lives up to its title by creating both the constant unease of the viewer and assaulting the viewer with intense gore.

The film begins with two female college students, Marie and Alex, driving to the remote farm house which is the home of Alex's parents and little brother. While on the road, Marie describes her nightmare of being chased in a forest. In the meantime, we see a stocky man in a battered van, somewhere in a field, being orally serviced by a woman. Moments later, in a long shot, we see the arm stick out of the truck, dropping the woman's head on a rural road.

Aja is undeniably talented, and still very young. He was twenty-five when he directed and co-wrote High Tension. In terms of getting his career established, for this, his second feature, he had the backing of Luc Besson. Along with Besson, Aja can be seen as part of a group of younger French directors like Louis Letterier and Florent Siri who, if not making Hollywood films per se, have their respective eyes on genre films with international appeal. As it is, I am hoping Aja can show he can make a film with true substance now that he shows he is capable of style.

Aja is also a second generation director. His father is Alexandre Arcady, who while unknown in the U.S., has had a long career as director in France. Arcady's longtime companion is filmmaker Diane Kurys. While I don't recommend High Tension except for those of strong heart and stomach, I suspect that Aja is on track to eventually join the ranks of such second generation film stylists as Gerd Oswald and Jacques Tourneur.

Posted by peter at June 29, 2005 01:34 PM