French films are known for pondering life's big questions: the nature of attraction; the meaning of existence; the struggles of fidelity; how to remove an ax from a gaping chest wound. That last entry comes courtesy of the horror import High Tension, a graphic yet ultimately laughable everything-goes slasher flick that's finally reaching our shores after being sloppily dubbed into English, with some of the goriest scenes trimmed out to earn an R rating. Even with the cuts, those longing for a bit of the "old ultraviolence," to borrow from A Clockwork Orange, will have plenty of throat-slashing, blood-spattering and beheadings to, um, savor. Whether or not they leave the theater fully satisfied is another matter.
The film recalls a slew of '70s horror classics, stripped down to their barest essentials: Two college-age women, the simpering Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) and her butch friend Marie (Cécile de France), spend most of the film's 85 minutes trying to escape the clutches of an insatiable serial killer who's just slain Alex's entire family. Looking like a rabid Dick Cheney, the brutal, wheezing maniac (Philippe Nahon) unleashes an arsenal of tools in his assault shotguns, plastic wrap and, in what one hopes is not a product placement, a Stihl chain saw. However, he's most partial to his trusty straight razor, which he wields in a way that might make The Simpsons' Itchy and Scratchy blush.
At its best, the movie brings John Carpenter's work to mind, particularly Halloween, with its creepy point-of-view shots and eerie electronic score. The actors are sufficient but nothing special, especially when dubbers shoe-horn in such broken-English lines as "Being like everyone else is bore!" Running around barefoot for most of the flick, de France resembles a Tank Girl-era Lori Petty, but her character's Sapphic attraction to Alex raises far more questions than the men who made the film can answer. When the ridiculous final twist is revealed, it's clear that High Tension's understanding of women is about as deep as the surprisingly similar Prodigy video Smack My Bitch Up.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.