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Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : High Tension (2003)


In an early scene of HIGH TENSION, a man in a creepy van has sex with a severed head and then drops it outside before driving off. The sadistic violence is at the core of the films in the French Extreme movement. However, movies like HIGH TENSION, MARTYRS, and INSIDE aren’t just about how much gore they can show, but about stripping everything down and pushing the audience’s tolerance to the limits while still being visually stunning at times.

Co-writer and Director, Alexandre Aja borrowed from Dean Koontz’s book, INTENSITY, for the first half of the film but quickly veers off into his own material. The surprise ending is pretty much exposed in the beginning of the film, but it still works The audience is left uncertain of the truth of what they are watching.

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College friends, Marie (Cecile de France,) and Alexia (Maiwenn,) spend the weekend with Alexia’s family on their remote farm to study for exams. A killer, (Philippe Nahon,)breaks into the house in the middle of the night. He murders the parents and little brother. He kidnaps Alexia, not realizing that Marie is in the house. Marie pursues him, trying to save her friend, but things don’t exactly work out.

A lot of time is spent in the beginning of the film on the girls’ relationship. It is clear that Marie is attracted to Alexia and is jealous of her relationships with men. Alexia seems to be aware of Marie’s feelings and appears to enjoy making her jealous. The film is voyeuristic, with Marie watching from the yard as Alexia is showering. When she is trying to rescue Alexia, she no longer tries to hide her feelings and begs Alexia to tell her she loves her.

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French Extreme films are not just about trying to gross out the audience. The frenetic energy and close up shots serve to remove the wall that separates the audience from what is going on. All protections are gone, and all that is left is raw exposure. The audience feels that they may actually be in danger, which is the ultimate goal of horror.


Kim McDonald is a contributing writer on Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during last year’s Fright Fest series, The Thing (1982). And this year’s Creature Features series. Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror, especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.

One response

  1. I love High Tension. The music/noise during the death scenes draws you in and like you mentioned; erodes all sense of safety. It’s not surprising nor is it meant to fill you with diverse moments of emotions. No highs and lows, just flat-lining slaughter. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, it’s just how I feel when watching the movie. Something not many films accomplish.

    June 29, 2018 at 12:33 pm

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