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Original French release poster
|Directed by||Alexandre Aja|
|Produced by||Alexandre Arcady
|Written by||Alexandre Aja
|Starring||Cécile de France
|Music by||François-Eudes Chanfrault|
89 minutes (Edited cut)
High Tension (French: Haute tension, French pronunciation: [ot tɑ̃sjɔ̃]; released in the UK as Switchblade Romance) is a 2003 French psychological suspense and slasher film that was later released in 2004 in the UK and 2005 in the US and Canada. The 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.
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 the 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 chases 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.
- Cécile de France as Marie. The protagonist, a college student who attempts to save her friend from a brutal killer before the ending reveals that she is really the murderer. Her motive seems to be her desire to be alone with Alex. Marie has created a separate persona (the psychopathic killer) in her mind who murders the victims.
- Maïwenn as Alex. The object of Marie's desire. She is terrorized by her own friend.
- Philippe Nahon as The Killer. A man sexually obsessed with killing and torturing women. It is revealed that he exists only in Marie's mind. When Marie butchers, she imagines The Killer as a person outside herself. Finally, after she "kills" the alter-ego, Marie and the Killer persona appear alternately.
- Andrei Finti as Alex's father. He is killed on the first night, decapitated in a bizarre way.
- Oana Pellea as Alex's mother. Her throat is slashed near to decapitation as she tries to use the phone to call for help. The Killer also cuts off her hand for trying to use the phone.
- Franck Khalfoun as Jimmy, the store clerk at a gas station. Marie/The Killer murders the clerk with an axe. This murder is captured on a security camera that later reveals the film's twist.
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Scenes cut for an R rating
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. 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.
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High Tension received mixed reviews in North America; it holds a 41% rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "There is indeed a good amount of tension in this French slasher, but the dubbing is bad and the end twist unbelievable." and a score of 42 on Metacritic, classifying it as having received "mixed or average reviews."
Roger Ebert was very negative about the film, giving it one star, saying 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."
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."
In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films. High Tension placed at number 51 on their top 100 list.
Several viewers of the film noticed striking similarities between the plot of the film and the plot of Dean Koontz's novel Intensity. Director Aja initially claimed he had not read Koontz's novel. However, at the Sundance Festival in 2004, the director admitted he had read the novel and that there were similarities. 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."
- Muse — "New Born"
- Ricchi e Poveri — "Sarà perché ti amo"
- U-Roy — "Runaway Girl"
- Félix Gray and Didier Barbelivien — "A toutes les filles"
- François Eudes-Chanfrault — "Faustina Mauricio Mercedes"
- Scott Nickoley, Jamie Dunlap, Molly Pasutti, and Marc Ferrari — "I Believe"
- François Eudes-Chanfrault — "Celebration A2"
- Arch Bacon — "Pillow Talk"
- François Eudes-Chanfrault — "Paris—Nice"
- François Eudes-Chanfrault — "Out of the Mundial"
Reference in other media
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 hommage to Haute Tension.
- "Haute Tension Box Office". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
- "High Tension (2005)". Box Office Mojo. 2005-06-30. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
- Confronting Mortality: "The New French Extremity", the Hostel series and Outdated Terminology (Part 2 of 3)
- "High Tension (Comparison: R-Rated - Unrated)". Movie-Censorship.com. 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
- "High Tension Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- "High Tension Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". Metacritic.com. 2004-11-23. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
- "High Tension :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
- "Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension) Review - Read Variety's Analysis Of The Movie Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension)". Variety.com. 2003-07-08. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
- "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- CC. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- "Top 10 Ridiculously Violent Movies". Time. 2010-09-03.
- "New slasher film 'High Tension' isn't new". heraldtribune.com. 2005-06-03. Retrieved 2014-07-05.
- "Author Q&A: Movies". deankoontz.com. Retrieved 2014-07-05.
- Exclusive Premiere: Kardiac’s “The Country Road Cover Up” Music Video
- Official website
- Haute Tension at the Internet Movie Database
- Haute Tension at AllMovie
- Haute Tension at Box Office Mojo
- Haute Tension at Rotten Tomatoes
- Haute Tension at Metacritic