World Cinema Wednesday: Haute Tension AKA Switchblade Romance (2003)
AKA 31 Days Of Horror #26.
The tale of two young women (Cécile De France and Maïwenn) who find themselves terrorised and pursued by a murderous psychopath (Philippe Nahon), Haute Tension may be the second directorial feature from Alexandre Aja but it’s undoubtedly the film that really pushed his name to the forefront of the horror community. Stylish, outrageously violent, and unrelentingly tense once the action begins, at least right up until the very last scenes, this is a film I used to think would be universally loved. I was wrong.
There are two big problems for some people viewing Haute Tension. First of all, the film contains a major shift in the third act that many find frustrating. It doesn’t bother me at all, but it’s certainly worth noting for anyone who decides to check out the film and then have an angry rant afterwards. Second, it’s hard to deny how similar this is, at times, to “Intensity”, a novel by Dean R Koontz. For anyone who sees the movie after reading the Koontz novel, the first half will give you some major déjà vu. This does bother me, although I am placated by the fact that this is the best take on that story I have seen so far (there’s a legitimate adaptation, a TV movie starring John C. McGinley and Piper Laurie, among others, but it’s restricted by the need to be TV-appropriate).
Anyway, let’s move on to the many positives. All of the leads are very good indeed, even if Maïwenn is left with a lot less to do throughout the movie, and the few supporting players who pop up also do decent work. The gore and bloodshed is impressive, with plenty of the red stuff flowing in intense and effective displays. And any soundtrack that includes a track from Muse is one I will enjoy listening to. Aja directs with an unflinching aim, working from the script he co-wrote with Grégory Levasseur, and he knows how best to position the viewpoint when displaying some censor-baiting nastiness.
Of course, none of these things will matter if you get to the end of the movie and simply hate it for what Aja does in the third act. It’s divisive, to say the least, but I still insist that the risk is worth taking. You’ll either be apoplectic with rage or you’ll find yourself with a new favourite horror movie. I fell into the latter camp when I first saw this, and am happy to keep recommending it to others. Even if I have to add a disclaimer every time.
DIRECTOR: ALEXANDRE AJA
WRITER: ALEXANDRE AJA, GRÉGORY LEVASSEUR
STARS: CÉCILE DE FRANCE, MAÏWENN, PHILIPPE NAHON
RUNTIME: 91 MINS APPROX