May 15, 2010

24 FPS Top 100 Films

Click the title for a trailer.

97: HAUTE TENSION (a.k.a. Switchblade Romance) [2003]
DIR: Alexandre Aja

Haute Tension (please ignore the terrible, and inaccurate, title it was given in England) did two really notable things. Importantly for the rest of this list it launched a brutal new wave of French horror, but what earns it a place of its own is largely the fact that it delivers - in spades - exactly what it says on the tin. High Tension is the literal translation of the title, and boy does Alexandre Aja deliver on that promise. This slasher may, at times, be unspeakably violent (and that was in itself a treat for genre fans, especially with the great Gianetto Di Rossi crafting the make up) but where it really wins out is in sheer ring tightening, knuckle whitening, nailbiting tension.

This film made a huge impression on me when I saw it in the cinema, thanks largely to the reaction of the girl sitting behind me. I saw her for a moment towards the end of the film. She was curled up in her seat, clutching her knees close to her face; a terrified, weeping, ball where a person used to be. That, I thought, is a proper horror film. She wasn’t the only one to be scared out of her mind either. Haute Tension is a simple stripped down story about two friends (Cecile De France and Maiwenn Le Besco) who are spending a weekend away from college with one of their families. The night they arrive a truck driver (Phillipe Nahon) murders everyone in the house except for Le Besco, whom he kidnaps, and De France, who manages to hide from him. At this point De France has to follow the truck and attempt to save her friend.

There are several sequences here that demonstrate Aja’s total mastery of his chosen genre. The home invasion stands out in particular, it takes up about a quarter of the barely 90 minute film, and is torturously tense, especially as the trucker searches for De France. Aja also marshals the violence brilliantly, creating some genuinely horrific kills (though fewer than you’d expect in a slasher, thanks to the limited cast of characters). The brutality is often completely astonishing, but so too is the inventiveness and the sheer awful reality with which Di Rossi (whose work has come a long way since Fulci’s Zombie) manages to, pardon the pun, execute the effects.

Many people have a problem with the ending of the film, but I loved it right off the bat. If you unpick the film, and remember how it is framed, it absolutely tracks, and plays equally brilliantly, if significantly differently, on subsequent viewings. Much of this is down to the fantastic performances of De France and Le Besco, each of whom are playing things on multiple levels, which only become clear on a second look, throughout the film.

Sadly, Alexandre Aja has never delivered on the huge promise of this film, decamping instead to Hollywood and churning out remakes. Still, we’ll always have Haute Tension.

Home Invasion
A perfect twenty minute sequence of unimaginable tension and insane brutality.

The bathroom
So knuckle whitening that British filmmaker Mark Tonderai lifted it, shot for shot, for his horror debut Hush.

The circular saw

To buy the film, and help 24FPS out at the same time, please use the links below. Thanks!
UK: DVD / Blu-Ray
USA: DVD [Unrated] / Blu-Ray [Unrated]

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