First, I watched the original french language version, and on the french distributed version (go back in 2004) the logos of Digital Factory and Europa films are absolutely marvelous.
"I won't leave anyone between us".
The movie starts with a mysterious dream sequence. We see Marie in a wood, hurt and fleeing from an unidentified foe. She arrives to a road and cries for help. All these sequences are skillfully alterned with credits. The graphics, the music, the mood is right there from the beginning, even during the credits. It's a dark and heavy tone. Marie wakes up and tells her friend, Alex, what happened in her dream. Both of them have planned to go to Alex's family in the country. Down the road to go there, we, as the viewer, see two close friends having fun. You won't see them again having much fun since the movie starts being intense FAST.
Alex's parents house is in a rural area and we feel isolated as soon as they arrive there. They spend the night socialising and talking about guys. In the house, there are Marie, Alex, the father, the mother and Tom, a little cowboy of about 8 years. Later in the night, a killer just knocks at the door. The father gets up, answers and that's it; first kill. It's partly in the trailer and the teaser of the movie and the integral scene is extremely brutal; good ol' gore. At this point, we fear for the other character.
the next 30 minutes is the attack of the killer in the house, also heavily featured in the trailer. He slowly looks for other victims. It's a very stressful 30 minutes where every character tries to hide, survive... Compared to "Scream" where every set/location is not used for long (fast food scares), Alexandre Aja focuses on few situations and locations but gets the tension high every time in a gritty and realistic matter. The rythm is slow but never boring. High Tension is well executed.
The killer is human, big and ugly, he has no mask and nearly looks like a regular butcher. Alexandre Aja shows us a couple of time his face a his expressions. It's fun to see that the focus is not about who he may be and for what reason he does it but is about immediate survival of the characters. The film continues later in a gas station for reasons that won't reveal. Again at this moment, the tension is high, and the situations belivable.
It seems I'm really reviewing a good film so far, right?
Stop reading if you don't want to be able to speculate on the events of the later part of the movie. I'm not revealing anything but I will heavily criticise it.
To me it's sabotage. Part of the hype for this film turns around the end surprise. The twist ending, as they are so "in" these days, is really really weird. Alexandre Aja, writer and director, probably thought his script was too simple. I wonder what past in his head to force the twist ending like that; did he have this idea from the beginning, did he think about it after, did he added it because of producers, I just don't know. The twist is just thrown at our faces like acid and forced down our throats, there's not really a logical explanation beside the truly lame "well you see the story from someone's point of view"... okay, great, but when the character is truly fucked up, his "point of view" invalidates the whole movie; it's sabotaging a carefully built storyline. It's not a matter of "finding out the truth" like in Matrix 1 it's just confession from the filmmaker that he bullshitted you for 80 minutes without leaving any clues. There is really NO clues, it's not fun like in fight club to watch the movie again knowing the twist and looking for clues and how events are truly structured, there isn't any.
One of the best way to manipulate an audience is to leave them an open space for guessing and then reversing the situation with concrete twists and explanations. A good example is the french film "À la folie... pas du tout" with Audrey Tautou (Amelie). Laetitia Colombani, the director, manipulates the audience marvelously with a "point of view" twist that is believable. In that case, the audience has no choice to accept defeat, accept the fact that they have been skillfully manipulated. In high tension, I feel we can only reject the ending. It's a good chance that the twist is accompanied by scenes of hilariously extreme gore.
Alexandre Aja signs a production as dirty and ugly, in the good sense, as Texas Chainsaw massacre. We find the same feel of rural isolation and opression. The film is really great, but don't expect a mind blowing ending except for the action.
2004-08-03 - By Olivier Bonenfant