Haute Tension

By Adam Lippe

hightensionpicThough this has been out overseas on DVD for a few months, this French slasher won’t get a US theatrical release until mid summer. Apparently Lions Gate has decided to go with an uncut NC-17 version (Note: it turned out they changed their minds) which is nice seeing as the blood and extreme gore is all the movie has going for it. The film is playing festivals all over the country at the moment, and it had its NY premiere tonight (with Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman sitting right in front of me, didn’t I feel special?). It’s basically a typical hack and slash with a motiveless killer slicing up a family and a friend at a farmhouse. There is little dialogue, minimal exposition (none of it satisfying), and extremely repetitive and grating music on a Kubrickian Eyes Wide Shut level. For a while, I kept wondering whether it was possible to make a slasher movie without the characters acting in an extremely stupid manner in order to lead the victim into the killer’s hands, i.e. running up stairs, avoiding the use of obvious weapons., etc. But then a twist occurs within the final 10 minutes which made me rethink that notion, and realize that it’s the writer and director that are stupid, not the characters. This is the kind of trick that screenwriters believe is oh so clever but creates numerous mammoth plot holes that hadn’t existed beforehand. There are a few jumps in the film, but there isn’t a thing you haven’t seen a hundred times. The deaths are rather extreme for what an American viewer sees in a theater, but doesn’t compare to something like Dead Alive or The Story of Ricky.

It’s a shame, because the acting was quite competent and there were several scenes of sustained intensity that were derailed by the boneheaded conclusion (though there was a nice little joke involving a chainsaw like machine that could easily double for a sexual symbol).

highteamThe director, Alexandre Aja,  was in attendance and I asked him whether he actually believed the ending made sense. He said that he did, and that there was some more footage cut from the conclusion which he felt would have explained too much*. I told him that it would have provided a lot more narrative clarity to a movie that didn’t have much narrative in the first place.

*Major spoiler:

More at the insane asylum which would have showed us that apparently she beat herself up and was somehow driving two cars at once. Apparently nothing to explain the head blowing him in the truck though or the pictures of the previous victims on the dashboard. I also jokingly asked the director if he thought that inside every lesbian is a sweaty, alcoholic, serial killer. He said, that even though he knew I was kidding, people have only asked that question in the US.

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.