The incredibly gory “High Tension” comes from France, a country not exactly known for slasher flicks or for producing films with only about 10 minutes of dialogue.
But director Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, with whom he wrote the bare-bones script, drew their inspiration from right here in the U.S. of A., where we do have a proud slasher-flick tradition — or we did about 30 years ago, when people made movies that were truly scary, and not just loud or fast or ironic.
With “High Tension,” Aja remains extremely faithful to the conventions of the movies he grew up watching and loving, like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Halloween.” Two young women travel to a remote farmhouse for the weekend. Doors creak and a tea kettle whistles and a creepy guy in a beat-up truck prowls the countryside, searching for someone to decapitate. You know where this is headed.
And in Cecile de France, Aja has found his Jamie Lee Curtis. The Belgian actress previously appeared in the comedy “L’Auberge Espagnole” and that overblown remake of “Around the World in 80 Days” with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan. Here, with her pixie cut and her sinewy frame, de France is the ideal embodiment of wide-eyed fear and butt-kicking ferocity.
As Marie, she barely makes it out alive once The Killer, as Philippe Nahon’s character is called, comes calling in the middle of the night. She and her friend, Alex (Maiwenn, baring her breasts for the film’s obligatory shower scene), had gone to Alex’s family’s quiet home in the woods to study for exams.
After a stripped-down, steadily paced set-up, psycho killer dude knocks on the door in the middle of the night. Like an idiot — or a horror flick’s first victim, same thing — Alex’s dad answers it and he’s toast.
Her mom also gets it in a gruesome way (though the blood dripping down the wooden closet-door slats was a nice touch), while her younger brother unceremoniously takes a shotgun blast to the back as he’s running through a cornfield.
Alex herself gets the torture treatment: She’s chained and gagged in a fetishistic way.
Meanwhile, Marie eventually goes from hiding and trembling to taking matters into her own hands. Before the movie’s done, she’s wielding a makeshift weapon that essentially consists of a piece of wood with a string of barbed wire wrapped around it.
Aja doesn’t appear to have anything new to say but what he offers should satisfy horror purists.