A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is not for children. It contains multiple horrific murders (by knives, axes, circular saws, and other sharp implements, as well as a shotgun), frightening and frequent jump scenes, a long shot of a girl in the shower, a girl's masturbation, a dead dog, drinking, smoking, cursing, an implied blow job (below a truck window frame) by a decapitated head. Lesbianism is associated with insanity.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
This French-made film (unevenly dubbed into English for U.S. release) begins with two pretty college friends -- Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cécile De France) -- driving in a cornfield, en route to Alex's parents' country home. They tease one another, flirt vaguely, and arrive just in time to head to their bedrooms. A lumbering, grunting killer arrives, brandishing a huge knife, wearing filthy overalls and a trucker's cap, his face rarely in frame. Following the loud murders of Alex's mother, father, and little brother, the killer chains her up and kidnaps her in his van, promising to ravish and abuse her. Marie follows, determined to save her friend, and so seeming like the slasher genre's usual Final Girl, at once frightened, resourceful, and increasingly violent, by the end mirroring the killer's tactics in her efforts to save Alex.
Is it any good?
Gruesome and knowingly derivative, HIGH TENSION delivers what it promises: bloody violence, nubile young bodies tense with pain and fear, and screaming victims. If you expect and want to see a peculiarly old-fashioned, low-budget ugliness, this self-serious movie is unsurprising but also quite aware of its ancestry.
Borrowing liberally from 1970s slasher movies by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, this film tacks an intriguing addition to standard horror conventions by showing Marie in a closet as she witnesses a slaying, a scene that suggests her responsibility as voyeur. A twist toward the end further challenges conventions and underlines the genre's illogical presumption that viewers take pleasure in observing pain. Making the pain almost too close -- with repeated jump scenes and uncomfortably close camerawork -- the movie doesn't grant much moral or visceral space.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the enduring appeal and specific gender dynamics of slasher movies. Formulaic and brutal, this subset of horror usually features two types of girls (sometimes overlapping): fearful victims and resilient fighters, as well as monsters whose defeat translates into their own emasculation. Does their doubleness make female characters seem untraditionally strong or stereotypically frail? How does the rural class setting or underclass killer reinforce stereotypes of ignorant, brutal "hicks"?