Case #5: High Tension, War of the Worlds, Push Off, I’m On Vacation

This Week’s Case(s): High Tension/War of the Worlds/Push Off, I’m On Vacation

That’s right. I’m at the Aqua Teen famed South Jersey Shore. Rather than getting all uppity at A.O. Scott for shit-canning some mildly obscure sequel to a big budget softcore vampire noir, I’d rather just briefly tell you why recent releases High Tension and War of the Worlds are both better than some critics would have you believe. But seriously, Scott, that stake humping scene was expertly paced.


Released: 2003 (France)/2005 (US)
Director: Alexander Aja
Starring: Cecile De France, Maiwenn le Besco and Phillipe Nahon

Synopsis: 2 female college buddies head out to a farm in order to relax and study for finals. Once they arrive, however, they find themselves in the midst of a deranged rapist’s homicidal rampage.

The Charges:

  • Ridiculous plot turn
  • Hyper-Ridiculous dubbing

The Defense:

Rotten Tomatoes’ review archive for the French slasher flick High Tension features a wealth of the site’s iconic green splatters of negativity mocking the film for its sizable twist ending and its unfortunate dubbing. Among these is a review that states, “(High Tension is) the worst idea to come out of France since the metric system.”

Umm…the metric system was kind of a great idea. Using units of ten to ensure simplistic conversions makes a lot of sense. And, if you think about it, so does High Tension.

If you listen to George Romero’s commentary track on the Dawn of the Dead DVD, you’ll hear him talk about his method of writing films. First, he thinks of a message that he wants to get across and then, at least according King George, “the story and the characters write themselves.” Though it’s debatable as to weather or not this is an ideal way to formulate a film script (other directors have been met with mixed results *COUGH* thepeopleunderthestairs) but Romero’s had enough successes to at least, in some cases, give it the benefit of the doubt.

High Tension is one such case. In fact, we really have to value its heavily symbolic posturing for two reasons:

1) High Tension downright nails the nitty-gritty feel of 1970s horror cinema. From the grime and the chases to the pacing and the grueling bloodshed, this movie is what dogma filmmaking would be if we could trade Hooper for VonTrier. Because of the strict adherence to every facet of 70’s horror, from the overriding revenge plot right down to the suspenseful visuals, High Tension is a more-than-credible modern horror homage.

2) High Tension doesn’t really work on a literal level. In fact, if you try to take it literally, you’ll be more confused than enamored. Yes, that’s a problem. No, it does not rule out the existence of an impressively robust metaphorical dimension to the film. Though this may sound cheap, for the litany of adored films with strong expositions and no cohesive symbolism, a few films with moth-eaten stories but comparably cast iron themes should be equally admissible into the canon of well-loved cinema.

Honestly, the fact the High Tension fails in its ability to deliver a story that matches it’s symbolism in any logical or cohesive sense is really disheartening, but the stunning direction and rich reflection on (without ruining it) the dangers of forcing homosexuality into latency in order to comply with society’s “norms,” make High Tension more than worth the price admission for any horror fan or, really, liberal-leaning intellectual. 

Oh, yeah, the dubbing is ridiculous. The intermittent subtitles are infuriating. But, Jesus Herbert Christ, at least it’s not Johnny Mnemonic. Suck it up, fun boy/girl.

Ch-ch-ch-check it out.


Steven Spielberg made this movie. It stars Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins. It came out last week.

Overall, the film was met with a very positive reception, however, a number of critics and viewers decided to give the film less than full-marksbecause it lacks the kind of emotional development and loving connectivity between the familial characters that the other-worldly invasion supposedly invokes. 

And I’ll give it that. Cruise starts out as a deadbeat dad and ends as, well, a deadbeat dad. The fact that he sputters “I love you” into the many scenes where he repeatedly rescues his daughter from imminent death at the lasers of the Martians’ tripods doesn’t make him dad of the year. They make him not a heartless asshole. In other words, just because you don’t want to see Dakota Fanning eviscerated by alien robots doesn’t put you on Dr. Spock’s wall of fame. 

However, War of the Worlds is one of the most viscerally terrifying films I’ve seen in a long while. The terror that Spielberg evokes through the unrelenting torture of an average, middle-class man at the hands of faceless antagonists recalls Spielberg’s earliest and darkest fictional work, The Duel. 

As good as the special effects are, it’s the pacing and direction that make War of the Worlds, specifically the first half, one of the most intense pieces of recent cinema. Any director can take a complex, nuanced plot and make it somewhat intellectually compelling. It takes talent to take a three-peat of a genre standard and make it terrifying.

Anyway, back to vacationing. Next week, check me out for some Johnny Depp ostentation and the week after that, it’s House of 1000 Corpses all the way.

If I were “that guy,” I’d say, “peace out!”

Written by Matt Finley