-->
Film

High Tension (Haute Tension) (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Marie never comes to understand her part in the violence of looking, the violation it represents.


High Tension (haute Tension)

Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2005-06-10

Two girls in a car in a cornfield. It's the oldest set-up in the slasher film book. And yet, High Tension (Haute Tension) presses on, not just borrowing from well known precursors but using those conventions to poke around and probe them. This isn't to say that Alexandre Aja's hysterically violent picture is precisely challenging what's come before. It does raise questions about the durability of generic tricks: Why do they work repeatedly? And why are you watching them... again?

Coming to the U.S. some two years after its European release, High Tension comes with proudly brandished baggage: lifting directly from the groundbreaking, low-budget horror films Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven made in the '70s, it features rudimentary effects (red-gooey blood, sharp weapons, lumbering killer, here played by Philippe Nahon) and standard girl types (the screaming victim and the last girl). Introduced in the aforementioned car, Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cécile De France) are driving along a lonely road and then into a cornfield, en route to Alex's parents' country home. Here, they imagine, they'll do some serious studying. It's clear right away that Marie is rather taken with Alex, and also that Alex is straight, as she prattles on about a boyfriend who has another girlfriend. They tease one another, flirt vaguely, and arrive just in time to take note of Alex's adorable little brother in his cowboy hat and head to their bedrooms.

As Marie lies alone in bed, pop music on her headphones, masturbating to memories of Alex in the shower (which Marie has briefly noticed through an upstairs window), a knock comes at the door, rousing Alex's dad from sleep. It's the large, filthy, baseball-capped killer you've been expecting, his grimy fingernails visible in close-ups of his grip on a large knife. He assaults family members one by one, even kills the dog, while leaving Alex chained up in her bed. Marie, still loose and unknown to the killer, scampers from room to room in search of a working telephone, as the killer, working at an implacably poky pace, grunts and keeps his face out of sight. Cutting out a little photo head of Alex to take with him, he loads the actual Alex, now moaning and defeated, into the van and takes off down the dark, empty road.

Once the killing begins, the movie doesn't look back. Not much, though it does press the point of your own looking, aligning you with Marie as she hides in a closet with slatted doors, so that she observes, her hand dug in to her imminently screaming mouth, a particularly lengthy, squishy, bone-grinding assault on the mother, who has stumbled into this very room post-stabbing, bleeding and lurching and just ready to have her throat cut, among other bloody indecencies. Stuck in the closet with Marie, you actually hear more of this attack than you see (blood spatters on the doors that barely shield Marie's eyes), but such effective holding back is always worse, as any slasher aficionado knows.

Also delivering to generic expectations, Marie makes valiant, even nutty efforts to save Alex, who remains gagged and unable to speak throughout their ordeal; Marie stows away (apparently unbeknownst to the killer, who glugs liquor while driving -- my god, is there nothing this monster won't do?). As they're riding in the back, the girls note blood stains on the walls and ceiling, presumably from previous victims. Alex whimpers and Marie determines to save her friend, though her thinking at each turn (say, when the van stops for gas) seems hasty at best, perverse at worst. One particularly perverse scene has Marie hiding from the killer in a gas station bathroom, terrified, relieved, even smiling briefly as she takes time to wash her face, as if forgetting her immediate purpose -- to rescue Alex.

Such instances make Marie a hard point of identification. Certainly, all slasher films make viewer identification a problem. Resisting the presumption that you align yourself with one character or even one position throughout a two-hour movie experience, they fracture distinctions between victim and aggressor through "stalker cams" approximating killers' perspectives, or unsympathetic protagonists. Identification here becomes an overt process, changing from scene to scene, sometimes even shot to shot. This film complicates even that complicated process, partly by showing Marie in a closet as she witnesses -- in wide-eyed, unable-to-turn-away horror -- the slaying of Alex's bland, barely noted mother. The scene is harsh, but also key: by this time all dialogue is lost, as is the belief that Marie will be effective at any point. You're starting to winder what kind of movie you've come to see,

Marie never comes to understand her part in the violence of looking, the violation it represents. But you do come to see the connections, partly through a too-clever-to-work twist toward film's end. More effectively, Marie's increasing investment in the violence she delivers unto the killer -- her desire to inflict what she's seen and to an extent, experienced, but more further challenges viewing conventions, leading to some viewers' complaints about illogic, but also underlining the fundamental illogic of the genre, its mounting of pleasure in pain and essential incoherence.

Making this particular pain seem too close -- with repeated jump scenes, but also with camerawork uncomfortably near to Marie, as she hides from, pursues, and then assaults the killer -- the movie resists granting moral or visceral space. And so you either have to define such space for yourself (which means rejecting the conventions you're here to see) or go along. The latter involves frequent point-of-view images (running and driving, chasing and stabbing), as well as images that build intimate panics. The mayhem makes you pay for your pleasure. High Tension is inventively grisly first, but also, past that, it is costly.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image