Spoilers to Destroy the Tension (High Tension, 2003)
High Tension seems like one of those films where every shot had the creators thinking about how edgy and gritty they were being. And shocking. We’re gonna shock you! Lots of blood spraying, our lead sitting on a bed masturbating! We’re gonna shock you, baby!
And maybe the shocks would work if the story was not such a convoluted mess. It makes zero sense. Early on we are treated to a sleazy guy in his run down service truck getting oral sex. The shocker is that he starts the van and drops a woman’s severed head out the van window. So, we have a psycho sexual killer established. We also get introduced to the female lead… a young woman who awakes from a dream where she is hunting herself. Ooooo…foreshadowing. They get to her friend’s remote farm home for the weekend. We establish our heroine doesn’t seem to have much time for boys, while her friend maybe has to much. So, I am going to spoil the crap out of this film (I also spoil the Sixth Sense and Fight Club).
They get to her friend’s house and go straight to bed. Later in the night the run down van drives up to the front door. When the friend’s father answers the door, his face is bashed in. He sputters why as he crawls up the stairs. The large brutish character takes it a step further and beheads the father. The mother is dispatched by a near beheading while our heroine hides in the closet. After the brute leaves, she goes to the mother’s side in tears, and the mother asks “Why?” and dies (more foreshadowing). Our heroine stumbles upon her good friend who is tied up and gagged. Our lead hears the little brother outside. She goes to the window and sees the brute wander through the field until he finds and shoots the boy.
She keeps promising to help her friend. Eventually, the brute loads the friend into the truck and drives away, unaware that he carries an additional passenger. He stops to get the truck gassed up and our lead slips out into the gas station. She asks the clerk for help and then has to hide as the psycho walks in. Of course, after chatting with the clerk, he kills him. The heroine stays hidden, watching the killer use the restroom, worried he will see her. She waits for him to leave, but waits to long. She gets out to the parking lot to see the truck pulling away.
So she steals a car and pursues him-after calling in the police. She decides it may be obvious that she is pursuing, backs off only to find the truck seems to have vanished from the road-BUT WAIT!!! It’s behind her. She is run off the road. She crashes. She gets out of the car and is pursued by the brute. She hides in a little run down green house and has a bloody battle to the death with the psycho brute. It appears she has won. She runs back to the truck. In the mean time, we jump to the police, where the inspector is watching the surveillance camera…and here it comes…are you ready for the twist?
No brute walks in. Just the girl. And she is the one who plunges an ax into the heart of the attendant. We switch back to our heroine saving her friend-but her friend pulls a knife on her asking why she killed her family. Our heroine is confused, she saved her friend-killed the bad guy! What’s going on? Suddenly we see flashbacks. No brute…just her. She kills her friends dad. Her friend’s mom. Her friend’s little brother.
OH MY GOSH!!!!! SHE’S THE KILLER! She’s in love with her friend and is angry at her friend’s rejection in favor of boys! I NEVER SAW THIS COMING!!!
And you know why? Because the film is a mess. See, in Fight Club and the Sixth Sense, the big reveals cause you to look back through the movie. And it makes sense. Holy crap, no one BUT the kid sees Willis! No one saw Tyler Durden except Ed Norton! But it all fits together. Here, we have scene after scene establishing contact between the heroine and her friend several times where her friend is clearly aware she is in front of her…while the brute is nearby. He is driving the truck. He goes out and shoots the boy why she is with her friend. Plus, in Fight Club, which has a similar plot twist, you never see Tyler without Ed Norton. But here, you get shots of the brute right at the beginning…it establishes him as an entirely separate character at the beginning of the film. He comes to the door in the truck… the “heroine” road in her friend’s car to get there-where did the truck come from? I mean, it just doesn’t work.
This film is not even a great mess. Hear is a hint for film makers…a twist for the sake of twist is just annoying if it doesn’t fit into the rest of the film. And the “It’s all in their head!” twist is the worst of all if done incorrectly. Which is where this film fell completely apart.