Alexandre Aja's fairly taut gorefest has unfortunately been dubbed into English from French and trimmed with some crisp editing to earn an "R" rating.
High Tension, once entitled "Switchblade Romance" is a horror film that will induce nightmares and is hardly for the squeamish, like Saw. The circle of fear is right for hardcore slasher fans, but many may wonder how viable this all is at the end when it comes to an unremorseful serial killer.
The screenplay by Aja and Gregory Levasseur concerns two friends: Alex (Maiwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cecile De France). Out to study for college exams, Alex brings her to stay with her at her parents' remote farmhouse. Marie has much energy to burn and it appears there may be some intimate pleasure on the horizon, though Alex doesn't seem to be as exploratory in the same manner.
Soon enough, an ominous, imposing man (Philippe Nahon) in green overalls and work boots with a cap covering his eyes arrives in his old truck and starts wielding a knife with horrifying results.
The family is slaughtered in deliberate fashion and Marie somehow is able to stay out of his sight. Alex is gagged and chained in her room, quickly into a maddening condition.
Aja does quite well with Marie's milieu as she tries for help and ends up hiding in the killer's battered vehicle. He'll drive off with Alex and the mood stays quite edgy for a while, eclipsing what the makers of Jeepers Creepers attempted.
Though the Grand Guignol appearance is dominant, sound and music add to the panic and apprehension. The camerawork, especially on Marie, works to nerve-racking fashion and DeFrance arguably gives the best performance as the bright, terrorized Marie. Covered in sweat and blood, the gamine-like actress makes good on some intense eye contact.
There's a hint of foreshadowing at the start and during the macabre brutality to the major story turn that might be a suggestion of parody. Still, Aja makes it all mostly gut-wrenching with arterial spray to spare in tracking a monster not so different from Leatherface or Michael Myers. Even the notion of Freddy Krueger comes to mind in High Tension as various lethal weapons from a slow man towards someone faster becomes like a visceral, if incredibly surprising twist on The Blair Witch Project.