High Tension: Unrated [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Tom Williams & Noor Razzak (20th November 2010).
The Film

Alexandre Aja's visceral horror film "High Tension" is a gripping entry into the slasher genre- but its strengths are matched against weaknesses that leave a slightly sour taste. The film's strongest point is its titular tension, as we follow young student Marie (Cécile De France) in her attempts to escape the horrific attention of a stranger (Philippe Nahon) who invades the farmhouse home of the family of Marie’s study pal, Alexia (Maïwenn Le Besco). Much of the film is shot from Marie’s point of view- especially the moments of total dread, where our focus is drawn not to the gory action itself, but to the reactions of someone who is barely avoiding the same fate. This is just as well, as the effects in the film are barely on this side of adequate, sometimes touching a B-movie grade. By taking our focus away from the sometimes inadequate effects we are more drawn in to the story, and more invested in the fate of Marie.

An opening conversation between the girls touches briefly on Marie’s feelings of being an outcast, in between typical squabbles over the night before. Marie and Alexia have gone to Alexia’s family home to prepare for their final exams, and their arrival confirms this feeling as well, as Marie seems a little uncomfortable to be in this strange domestic environment. Ultimately, however, it is her outcast status that saves her life, as the family suffers horrific fates at the hand of the strange visitor. The dread we feel at the desecration of a family home is written across Marie’s face as she begins a terrifying fight for survival.

"High Tension" seems to be designed to provoke the most extreme feelings of discomfort and revulsion from its audience, and it certainly challenging to watch at times- but the balance between showing too much, as in a slasher/horror flick, and showing too little, as in a psychological thriller, makes for a compelling and successful film. That said the film is nearly undone by the attempt to give the film a twist at the end. The fashion for giving films twists was for some time confined to B-grade slasher flicks- more often than not, something simple like the spooky killer being not really dead, or somebody else all along. "The Sixth Sense" (1999) revived the idea and made it more fashionable- much to the detriment of films like this one, which attempts to follow in the footsteps of films like "The Machinist" (2004) or "Saw" (2004) by giving the story a shock that detracts from the feelings evoked in the film itself. All these films bring out their strongest feelings by pure sympathy- as we connect with the characters and empathise with their fears, our thoughts are on the feelings we share in this strange and terrifying situation, rather than an intellectual exercise in figuring out what exactly is going on.

Giving a big reveal that not only draws our attention to the fact that the events we have witnessed have backgrounds of their own-motive, planning, luck and history each playing their roles in the playing out of each scene- but also removes one layer of believability by asking us to take one further step in our suspension of disbelief. High Tension had some clues leading to its conclusion, but given that it attempted to have us not guess the ending, these clues are really only obvious on repeated viewings. The major strengths of this film are in those scenes where we most acutely feel connected to Marie and her suffering; the twist takes this away from us.

Featured on this Blu-ray released is the original "French Director's Cut" unrated version of the film running at 90 minutes 44 seconds.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio, this 2.35:1 this 1080p 24/fps transfer is excellent, frankly I'm pleased with Lionsgate recent catalogue titles, considering a few of their other previously released catalogue titles suffered from several problems. I suppose "High Tension" has a added edge of being a mostly recent film (only 7 years old) as compared to some of the 80's and 90's films they released on Blu-ray. The modern film stock offers up a much more defined, detailed and colorful image. The image is sharp and beautifully rendered with fine detail, textures that are gritty and blacks that are incredibly deep and bold. The film mostly takes place at night and the dimly lit scenes hold up well with little noise. The print is clean and free from any specs or dirt, overall I was very pleased with this HD offering.

Audio

The disc offers up two ways to watch the film, the original "French Director's Cut" uncut version which features a powerful French DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, there's also an option to view the film in its "English Dub" which is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film in it's original French version. The DTS-HD track offers up an erie, freakish and overall impressively immersive experience that'll please genre fans as it easily places the viewer amid the tension. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, the film's mood is set with the use of active surrounds, ambient sounds that provides the necessary depth which horror films actively require.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English HoH and Spanish, usually there's no need to comment on the subtitle tracks, in this case I feel a need to as the English subtitle track could be considered a dumbed down "dubtitles" that simplify the translation... not ideal but it's the only thing we got so far in HD.

Extras

Lionsgate has released this film with all the extras from the previous DVD edition and they include an audio commentary, a selected scene audio commentary and three featurettes. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary by director Alexandre Aja and screenwriter Grégory Levasseur. These two offer a fairly engaging track that cover a lot of technical issues in regards to making this film. The two cover the story elements as well but really focus on the style, shooting and editing, commenting on each scene. They manage to maintain momentum throughout the film without too many silent gaps. It's wroth listening to if you're into the technical aspects of filmmaking.

Selected scene audio commentary by director Alexandre Aja and actress Cécile De France, these two take a look at a handful of scenes as they discuss the shooting especially the goriest aspects of the film and the challenges of shooting those scenes.

"Haute Terror" (480p) is a featurette that runs for 23 minutes 47 seconds, the clip features both english and french parts to it, some behind-the-scenes footage and press tour footage. It's an extended EPL clip that covers aspects of the production and promotion, it's a nice look at the making of and worth watching at least once.

next up is "Building Tension" (480p), the second featurette runs for 8 minutes 14 seconds, it's basically pretty much a recycled and shorter version of the previous clip, it cover basics only... not really worth your time.

"Giannetto De Rossi: The Truth, the Madness, and the Magic" (480p) featurette runs for 7 minutes 42 seconds, this clip is a look at the career of make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi and his work on this film. It's a need look at what it takes to create convincing make-up effects and for fans of De Rossi's work it's worth checking out, though I would have liked a more detailed examination of his career.

The disc starts up with a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "Lionsgate Blu-ray" spot runs for 1 minute 1 second.
- "Lionsgate Action Stars" spot runs for 1 minute 6 seconds.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: C+ Overall: C+

 


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