Friday, April 25, 2014

Haute Tension



Haute Tension has that mixed reputation where some viewers like me found the twist frustrating despite acknowledging its visceral power and blunt force violent punches. The concrete saw scene at the end was one of those moments that makes sense in terms of the “imaginary” killer wielding it while us expecting the “real” killer, Cécile de France, to be able to hurriedly, without haste, come speeding from a forest carrying it while it runs is too much for me to accept realistically. There’s this opening introduction to the imaginary killer where he is giving himself a blow job with the decapitated head of a woman…what does this have to do with the real killer? It does tell us that the killer (before the twist) is a sick bastard, but is this the real killer’s fantasy?

I kind of get a general idea as to the manifestation of evil: that filthy, grotesque, ugly, monstrous, consciousless, cold-blooded, dark beast that most of us are successful in keeping caged, with the key far removed. There’s too much evidence throughout time that this beast is often freed and allowed to claim victims, innocent and vulnerable. In Haute Tension, we are led to believe that this portly, trashy, dumpy creep driving a decrepit van has killed the family associated with de France. Cécile de France is unable to save them from this beast incarnate, and she hitches a ride with her best friend (whose family was terminated), played by Maïwenn in the back of the imaginary killer’s van.

I can only surmise that this part of the film tells us that a part of her—the good part—remains with Maïwenn while her more dominate personality is driving the van that holds “them” (technically Maïwenn) captive. While Maïwenn is bound and gagged in the van, Cécile does battle with herself, and the dark beast is winning. A security camera watched by law enforcement indicts visually Cécile of the ax murder of a store clerk…this indicates the dark half of her personality is in command while the good part can only watch from a distance as bloodshed ensues. I guess this also goes for the family annihilation at the beginning of the film.

All of this leaves me a bit unsatisfied. I think you really have to suspend disbelief as credibility in the twist is stretched to the max. Some fans of the film are fine with it, actually considering it refreshing as it toys with slasher convention, warping it into something ghoulish. But if you want lots of bang for your buck as a slasher fan craving lots of gushing blood, Haute Tension is the ideal candidate for a fun evening. That concrete saw scene where a motorist is just torn apart in the driver’s seat of his car is a good example of overkill. The scene where a book case is pressed into the head of a trapped victim (whose neck in penned into the bones of his staircase) features another gusher as the open wound of the neck absent what was attached sprays blood onward as if a pipe burst. There’s the neck slashing that has the open cut just spewing blood while the film’s supposed heroine (the film seems, now that I look back during revisits, to show that Cécile spends all her time in hiding instead of offering to protect; this indication tells us that her good part is simply too afraid to confront her dark half) hides in a closet.

I mentioned the overkill in the graphic violence. With the sound effects and onscreen cruelty, there’s just so much emphasis on pure psychopathic overkill. There is this moment that is clear to us with the twist as the mother of Maïwenn’s husband asks Cécile, “Why me?” This makes sense in the context that she is actually asking her killer why this punishing fate was visited upon her. Obsession and love unrequited are a constant in stalker/predatory films where a psychopathic response to affection denied results in disturbing actions perpetrated by the person “rejected”. There’s a scene where the real killer repeatedly confirms her delusion that no one or nothing will keep her from her desired mate…telling herself this in a holding cell as the one she desires looks on behind the glass.

I had a hard time accepting that a crow bar stabbed completely through a significant area of the killer’s body would allow her to survive, but in order to have that final scene, this is necessary. Unbelievable to me, but this does seem to divide. Many actually find all of the twist rather neat, but I think it simply cannot withstand close scrutiny. However, there's a scene just prior to the revelation of who the real killer actually is that indicates the good half seeming to vanquish the dark half (by way of a razor-wired fence-post) only for this to be temporary as a stabbing in the stomach re-awakens it from its slumber. Speaking of the stomach stabbing...how does one survive both a crowbar and knife stabbing to different parts of the body? Far-fetched? Just a bit.
If there was a scene that left a bad taste it was the cornfield camera pan showing the dead body of a cute little boy. The slight sight of a gun blast firing from within the cornfield is all we really needed, yet the filmmakers just can't seem to resist going one step further by showing the body itself. Why? Is this necessary? We got the point with the cornfield and a bright flare. The kid was killed. I didn't think we needed to place any more emphasis on this sickening act of violence.

This is a film that seemed to be a forerunner in the "French Xtreme" uprising of bloody films with over-the-top violence that got horror fans giddy about the future of European horror. Others came right after and bested Haute Tension (Frontier(s), Inside, Martyrs to name three) in such honors, but this film is still quite accepted as motivating the French movement of viscera into the 2000s. I would attest to its gleeful splurge onscreen and open wounds are preferred and embellished.

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I had a fun dialogue with a young lady I work with about the rather hilarious scenes particularly in romantic comedies and action genre wher...

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