With a central thesis that lesbian desire leads directly to the slaughter of the nuclear family and worse, High Tension is a slasher film James Dobson can call his own. Yet another addition to the crap pantheon of '70s-style teen-kill flicks, French writer-director Alexandre Aja and co-writer Grégory Levasseur's ineptly hideous first feature treats us to the early sight of a thuggish repairman (Philippe Nahon) mouth-raping a dead girl's disembodied head. From there, it becomes less subtle. We meet Marie (Cécile De France), a butch college girl, and her sexually active (read: sluttish) friend, Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco), as they traipse off to visit the latter's happy family in their straight-outta-Country Life manse. There, Marie furtively watches Alex take a shower, after which she masturbates ' to the headphone accompaniment of a cheery gender demotion by UB40, the chorus of which repeats, "There's one thing you should know, you're just another girl." A more succinct illustration of erotic self-loathing we've never seen. In some cosmic fashion, Marie's fateful jill-off draws out The Head-Fuck Killer, who invades the house, decapitates Alex's dad, throat-slashes her mom, shotguns her kid brother, rapes Alex in the back of his truck and sets off in his tatty truck, with Marie in hot pursuit. Said chase culminates in an insanely stupid plot twist that leaves endless questions stranded in the wind ' sad, gnarled things never to be attended to by the film's contemptuously arbitrary finale. Expect no satisfying answer to teensy, niggling issues like "Who really did what to whom, and when and where and why?" Aja's filmmaking is slick without ever displaying a working comprehension of genre syntax. He's largely disinterested in complex compositions that artfully mislead the eye, preferring instead cheap-shock edits and lingering shots of his FX crews' impressive gore tableau. But most annoying is his aforementioned refusal to give us any clue of what has actually happened in the course of the film. Not that logic is one of the genre's salient elements: Classics like The Black Cat, The Birds and Suspiria got by just fine propping up their iffy story progressions with a skilled, relentless stressing of universal psychic pressure points. The better '70s slashers are clearly about larger issues ' e.g., the class resentments simmering in Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre ' and most of Wes Craven's early films lent a felt coherence to their oft-flimsy narratives. High Tension, in contrast, is about nothing more than a desire to shock in the meanest fashion available, mistaking pointless cruelty for edginess while banking on your audience's assumed distrust of female sexuality. Any post-film struggle to figure out its ham-brained plot machinations or possible subtext is a hollow pursuit. The filmmakers clearly don't care; why should you?
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