High Tension

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High Tension
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Produced by
Screenplay by
Music by François Eudes
Cinematography Maxime Alexandre
Edited by Baxter
Distributed by EuropaCorp
Release date
  • 18 June 2003 (2003-06-18) (France)
  • 10 June 2005 (2005-06-10) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
Country France[1]
Budget $2.5 million[2]
Box office $6.8 million[3]

High Tension (French: Haute Tension, French pronunciation: ​[ot tɑ̃sjɔ̃]; released in the United Kingdom as Switchblade Romance) is a 2003 French horror film directed by Alexandre Aja, stars Cécile de France, Maïwenn, and Philippe Nahon.

High Tension was picked up by independent distributor Lions Gate Entertainment following a successful screening at the Midnight Madness section of the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. Originally rated NC-17 in the U.S. for strong graphic violence, a few graphic shots were cut from the final version of the U.S. release in order to secure an R rating (the original NC-17 cut was released in some theaters), and the film was dubbed for commercial appeal. However, the original cut (referred to as an unrated version) is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

All of the effects are created by renowned horror make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi, a favorite of late director Lucio Fulci.[4]

High Tension has been associated with the New French Extremity movement.[5]


The film begins with a woman wearing a hospital gown, whispering to herself. Her back is revealed, showing sutures from injuries all over her back. The scene cuts to a woman who runs from something unknown to a road near a forest. She stops a car, screaming, begging for help, when her hand is revealed, covered in blood from a wound on her stomach.

This is revealed to be Marie's dream. She and Alex, her best friend, are on their way to stay at Alex's parents' house for the weekend to study. When they arrive, Alex gives Marie a tour of her house before they settle down for dinner. After dinner, Marie and Alex get ready to go to bed. As Alex sleeps, Marie lies on her bed listening to music and masturbating. Marie hears a doorbell ring and Alex's father wakes to answer it. The man at the door is a serial killer, who slashes Alex's father's face with a straight razor. Alex's father's head is pressed between two spindles of the staircase, then the killer shoves a bookcase towards the father's head, decapitating him. The noise awakens Alex's mother, who finds her husband dead and is approached by the killer.

Marie, hearing the mother's screams, quickly arranges the guest room to make it appear that no one is staying there, and hides under her bed. The killer inspects Marie's room but does not find her. Marie creeps downstairs and finds Alex chained in her bedroom. Promising to find help, she sneaks into the parents' room to find a phone. After hearing loud thuds, she hides in the closet and through the slats of the door witnesses the killing of Alex's mother as her throat is brutally slashed with a razor.

Alex's younger brother runs from the house to the cornfield, pursued by the killer. Marie returns to Alex, where she witnesses the young boy's murder from a window. Marie promises to free Alex, but the killer is heard returning. Marie sneaks into the kitchen and takes a butcher knife. Alex is dragged into the killer's truck. Marie sneaks into the truck with the butcher knife and hides there with Alex. He locks them in and drives off.

When the killer stops at a gas station, Marie gives Alex the knife and sneaks into the gas station shop for help. When the killer comes into the shop, Marie hides and she witnesses the store clerk (Franck Khalfoun) being murdered with an axe. The killer returns to the truck and Marie takes the clerk's car keys and follows the killer down a deserted road. The killer notices Marie following him, and rams Marie's vehicle, pushing the car off the road where it wrecks. Exiting on foot, badly injured, Marie runs into the forest as the killer seeks her. Eventually, Marie bludgeons the killer with a fence post covered in barbed wire. As Marie inspects the body, he grabs at her throat, so Marie suffocates him with a plastic sheet and makes her way back to the truck. Alex seems terrified of Marie as she returns to the vehicle. As police investigate the gas station murders via the in-store videotape, the tape shows Marie murdering the store clerk. In retrospect, the audience is shown how the family murders really happened. Finally, the audience discovers that Marie is murderous, delusional, and in love with Alex.

At the truck, Marie unties Alex. As soon as Alex is free, she threatens Marie with the knife and accuses her of butchering her family. Alex slashes Marie's face and stabs her in the stomach before running into the forest. Marie chases Alex with a concrete saw. Alex finds a road and flags down a car. As Alex is climbing into the car, Marie appears brandishing the concrete saw and disembowels the driver. A stray piece of glass slices Alex's Achilles tendon. Alex takes a crowbar from the car's toolbox and crawls along the road. Marie forces Alex to tell her that she loves her, and she kisses her. While engaged in the kiss, Alex plunges the crowbar into Marie's chest as Marie proclaims she'll never let anyone come between them.

The final scene shows Marie in a psychiatric hospital room, and Alex watching her through a one-way mirror. Marie grins and reaches for Alex, aware that she is behind it.




High Tension was released in France on 18 June 2003 where it was distributed by EuropaCorp.[1]

The film was shown at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival during the Midnight Madness section.[6] After screening at the festival, the film was purchased by Lionsgate Films for North American distribution.[6] In her book Films of the New French Extremity, Alexandra West described The screening of High Tension at Midnight Madness made the section of the film festival an "unintentional bastion for New French Extremity" which still did not have a popular following. Following High Tensions's release there, other films followed at the festival such as Calvaire in 2004, Sheitan (2006) and Frontier(s) and Inside (2007) and Martyrs in 2008.[6]

In the United States, Lionsgate released an English-dubbed version of the film in theaters on 10 June 2005. Several murders scenes were truncated in order to avoid an NC-17 rating.[7] A re-cut theatrical trailer was released by Lionsgate to promote the film, featuring "Superstar" by Sonic Youth.[8]


Some scenes were edited for the American version to achieve an R rating by the MPAA. About one minute of the film was cut in order to avoid the NC-17 rating.[9][unreliable source?] The R-rated edition was released in American cinemas, and in a less widely circulated fullscreen DVD. This section notes what was deleted from the unrated, original French film to produce the American version.

  • Alex's father is graphically decapitated with a bookcase, his headless neck spraying blood. In the R-rated version, the murder is edited to quickly cut away as the bookcase crushes and severs his head. Later the body is seen on the staircase without the head.
  • When Alex's mother has her throat slashed, the scene is shortened; most of the arterial spurting, as the killer pulls back her head, is gone. Subsequent shots of Marie inspecting the body have also been edited.
  • The death of Jimmy the gas station clerk has been shortened. Close-up shots of the axe sticking in his chest have been removed.
  • The scene where Marie strikes the killer's face with the barbed wire pole is shortened and less explicit; Marie hits the killer fewer times, and fewer details of the killer's wounds are shown.
  • The driver's disembowelment with the concrete saw was shortened.
  • A close-up of the crowbar in Marie's shoulder is missing.


According to the internet review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 41% approval rating, with the consensus stating: "There is indeed a good amount of tension in this French slasher, but the dubbing is bad and the end twist unbelievable."[10] and a score of 42 on Metacritic, classifying it as having received "mixed or average reviews."[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C-" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

American film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film only one star, opening his review with: "The philosopher Thomas Hobbes tells us life can be "poor, nasty, brutish and short." So is this movie." He added that it was "poor, nasty, brutish, and short," and that it has a plot hole "that is not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact does have a truck driven right through it."[13]

Lisa Nesselson of Variety was more forgiving, saying that the film "deftly juggles gore and suspense," has "unnerving sound design," and "has a sinister, haemoglobin look that fits the story like a glove."[14] James Berardinelli praised the film, writing: "The film revels in blood and gore, but this is not just a run-of-the-mill splatter film. There's a lot of intelligence in both the script and in Alexandre Aja's direction..For those who enjoy horror films and don't mind copious quantities of red-dyed fluids, this one is not to be missed. It's a triumph of the Grand Guignol."[7] The Village Voice's Mark Holcomb wrote that the film resembles "a pastiche of '70s American slasher flicks that seemingly stands to add to the worldwide glut of irono-nostalgic sequels, remakes, and retreads," ultimately seeing it a "gratifyingly gory, doggedly intellectual decon of the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and (surprisingly but aptly) Duel."[15]


The film was included in TIME Magazine's 10 most ridiculously violent films.[16]

Several viewers of the film noticed striking similarities between the plot of the film and the plot of Dean Koontz's novel Intensity.[17][18] When questioned at the Sundance Festival in 2004, the director acknowledged that he had read the novel and was aware of the similarities.[19] On his website, Koontz stated that he was aware of the plagiarism but would not sue "because he found the film so puerile, so disgusting, and so intellectually bankrupt that he didn’t want the association with it that would inevitably come if he pursued an action against the filmmaker."[20]


Reference in other media[edit]

In the 2008 video game Silent Hill Homecoming, one of the unlockable weapons is a circular saw. Unlocking the saw earns an achievement (Xbox 360 version) titled "Rising Tension". New York based Horrorcore artist Corey Jennings aka Kardiac, filmed with the Music video to his single "The Country Road Cover Up", an homage to Haute Tension.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Haute tension (2002) Alexandre Aja" (in French). Bifi.fr. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  2. ^ "Haute Tension Box Office". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "High Tension (2005)". Box Office Mojo. 30 June 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  4. ^ http://www.fandango.com/giannettoderossi/filmography/p87192
  5. ^ Confronting Mortality: "The New French Extremity", the Hostel series and Outdated Terminology (Part 2 of 3)
  6. ^ a b c West 2016, p. 179.
  7. ^ a b Berardinelli, James. "High Tension (France, 2003)". ReelViews. Retrieved 22 December 2017. 
  8. ^ High Tension (Theatrical trailer). Lionsgate Films. 2005. 
  9. ^ "High Tension (Comparison: R-Rated - Unrated)". Movie-Censorship.com. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  10. ^ "High Tension Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  11. ^ "High Tension Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". Metacritic.com. 23 November 2004. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  12. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com. 
  13. ^ "High Tension :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. 9 June 2005. Retrieved 21 December 2017. 
  14. ^ Nesselson, Lisa (8 July 2003). "Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension) Review - Read Variety's Analysis Of The Movie Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension)". Variety. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  15. ^ Holcomb, Mark (6 June 2005). "French Horror Pastiche Up to More Than Mimicry". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 29 August 2005. 
  16. ^ "Top 10 Ridiculously Violent Movies". Time. 3 September 2010. 
  17. ^ "Double Murder Ep 64: High Tension vs. Intensity". Bloody Disgusting. February 5, 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2017. 
  18. ^ Richardson, Jancy (17 June 2016). "Did 'High Tension' Rip Off Dean Koontz's 'Intensity'?". Moviepilot. Retrieved 6 January 2017. 
  19. ^ "New slasher film 'High Tension' isn't new". heraldtribune.com. 3 June 2005. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  20. ^ "Author Q&A: Movies". deankoontz.com. Retrieved 5 July 2017. 
  21. ^ Exclusive Premiere: Kardiac’s “The Country Road Cover Up” Music Video

Works cited[edit]

  • West, Alexandra (2016). Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity. McFarland. ISBN 1476625115. 

External links[edit]