If entertainment had to face tariffs based on a country's ability to manufacture similar product domestically, High Tension would be stuck in port, resting alongside the films of Luc Besson and a crate of old Bush CDs. An unabashed attempt at an American-style slasher movie, Alexandre Aja's film at least tries in earnest to live up to its name. With the French countryside filling in for Crystal Lake or deepest Texas, High Tension opens as law students Cécile de France and Maïwenn travel to the latter's family home for a round of intense studying. The converted farmhouse combines all the charm of rural living with such conveniences as a knife-filled kitchen, easily cut phone lines, and neighbors who care enough to keep a close eye on children at play—neighbors like Philippe Nahon, who's introduced sitting in the driver's seat of a rusted-out truck while having oral sex with a severed head. Experienced moviegoers will recognize this narrative device as an instance of foreshadowing.
Aja has professed an admiration for genre classics like The Evil Dead and Halloween, and at least until the killing starts, he threatens to match them, creating an almost unbearably intense air of peril. Sadly, it's a long night, and Aja doesn't have the stamina to keep it interesting through daybreak. Shortly after Maïwenn and de France settle in for a restful sleep, Nahon shows up and begins butchering Maïwenn's family, a process that could fill the entire second act of a stage production. Though staged with technical skill and unflinching brutality, it's an awfully familiar-looking slaughter filled with moments on loan from other movies. It's hard to be too scared when thinking, "Hey, that's just like that one part of Blue Velvet!" The descent continues through an ending that's absurd—and, for any viewers not taking a break from picketing their local branch of GLAAD or writing angry letters about the renewal of Will & Grace, pretty toxic. Aja's next project is reportedly a Hollywood remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. He should be content to drag down the quality of his own country's film industry.