Impressions: My Issue with High Tension

This “Impressions” will contain spoilers. It’s impossible to discuss what I wish to discuss without spoiling this movie, as well as movies like You’re Next and Kristy.

I want first to warn people I am not going to go too deep into the problematic nature of the film as far as sexual identity or mental health. A lot of horror films touch on these issues and how they do so ranges from “they handled it well” to “that was downright offensive.” I understand and acknowledge that. I also understand and acknowledge that I am not an expert on these topics. When I write about movies, it’s as a moviegoer. Sometimes I pick up on critical social subplots, sometimes I miss them. I am not purposely ignoring something important, only saying I can speak to a very limited subject matter, and will not pretend that I have the right to speak to others.

I feel the best place to start this particular Impressions piece is with a bit of background information.

I used to have an “iffy,” to say the least, relationship with horror. I was curious and fascinated but scared easily, so mostly avoided the genre. I saw a few hits for my age group, even fewer classics, and that was basically all of my exposure. For some strange reason in my first attempt at college, I decided to sign up for “International Horror Films,” a class I largely credit for changing my view on the genre, and how I view movies in general. I digress. Each week (the class was basically once a week with longer class periods) we covered a topic. The discussion we had before watching High Tension was on “The Final Girl” trope.

Sadly, we did not have a discussion on this movie as it closed out this class, to this day I am incredibly disappointed in that.

I give you this background, so you know, I went into High Tension fresh off of discussing the elements of a final girl slasher movie. For those that have seen High Tension, you will likely understand what I was expecting from this film.

Given that context, I was utterly intrigued by this movie. Remember this is roughly seven years before we got “You’re Next.” We had just watch Halloween, for many people the epitome of a final girl movie. Halloween features a killer picking a girl, almost at random, stalking her, killing those around her, tormenting her, and her being forced to fight back.

You’re Next is very likely not the first movie to turn that formula on its head, but it’s one of the most popular, and High Tension was almost that.

If we pretend we don’t know where this movie is going, we have a typical slasher set up. A “man” seems to be stalking a family because he is targeting a woman, seemingly with no explanation. He kills the people in his way, her family, before focusing on the target of his obsession. Meanwhile, his obsession’s best friend has managed to stay hidden and is now hunting him.

We are treated to many scenes that flip the script on how a slasher movie plays out because as far as we know, Marie is hunting the killer. There are tense moments where the killer seems to understand he’s being followed, but almost entirely we have the “final girl” hunting the slasher.

This is amazing.

And again this is seven years before You’re Next, so this is the first time I had experienced this.

I loved it.

It is part of the reason why I love movies like You’re Next and Kristy so much. Both of those films start with the killers cutting people down before a “final girl” type character rises up and begins to hunt the killers. The killers might still be on their own hunt, but it’s the survivor hunting the killer that we are invested in. These movies resonate with horror fans, and they do so largely because are unique and take what we expect and change it.

It’s smart, it’s effective.

It’s almost what High Tension did.

So we have a rough kill scene where a man tears through the family in brutal and unexpected ways. We have Marie stepping up as “final girl” to hunt down the man that has stolen her best friend and starts to play an intense game of cat and cat with him. Sometimes she is on top, sometimes he is. But it’s new, intense, and clever. We have the making of something spectacular…

Then Marie is the killer.

Her lust for her friend drove her mad.

She was experiencing multiple personalities.

And I became bored.

Again, I am willing to acknowledge that at least part of my disappointment was linked to how this movie was presented to me and the context in which I consumed it. However, years later I still come away with the same feeling.

What started as a smart way to turn the hunter vs. hunted, final girl vs. killer, narrative on its head and instead became a lame Psycho. The one good thing it could have done was explore the idea of inviting a killer in, but even that is not touched on.

It certainly doesn’t help that the end of the movie becomes a bit of rip off of the final scene of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Yet, it’s still a brutal and well-shot movie. It’s still extremely gory for people that like that. It’s still entertaining almost entirely throughout. It still has tension like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, it’s one of the best horror experiences out there.

But it remains one of my most disappointing horror movies.

A well-crafted experience means so much more than a poorly delivered twist. Even if everything surrounding that twist is excellent.

My bottom-line? Genre fans should still consider checking it out if they haven’t already, it’s not lacking in merit entirely. Go in expecting it to let you down. Some love the twist, and I can’t fault them for that. But if you expect something more than just “a twist” you will be let down, so understand it’s coming.

What do you think? Have you seen High Tension? Do you disagree with me and actually love the twist ending?

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