Monday, October 24, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/22


High Tension (2003)
(4th viewing) d. Aja, Alexandre (France) 91min
Frenchman Aja burst onto the horror scene with this, his second feature film, which absolutely delivers on its titular promise. The premise is almost quaint in its simplicity: Two schoolmate chums (Cecilie de France, Maiwenn) get together for a weekend of study and relaxation at the brunette’s parents’ country home, only to come under the assault of marauding serial killer Phillippe Nahon. But it is the mayhem’s expert execution – literally and figuratively – that announced a major talent in the making. Combining forces with partner/producer Gregory Levasseur (with whom he wrote the script) and a terrific team of collaborators (the sound design deserves special note, as does the copious black-streaked bloodshed provided by longtime Fulci collaborator Giannetto de Rossi), Aja delivers perhaps the strongest slasher flick of the new millennium…right up until the 1:17 mark. It is here that he and Levasseur introduce one of the most wildly divisive plot twists in recent memory, and it is defiantly a matter of personal taste whether it enhances or diminishes what has come before. I reside resolutely in the latter camp, though, as evidenced by my repeated viewings, it hasn’t deterred my appreciation for the incredible sense of mood, atmosphere and, yes, tension generated. In hindsight, my deepest regret is not Tension’s twist, but the fact that Aja has never since exhibited the same feverish bravura, seemingly content to helm Hollywood horror remakes. Case in point…

Piranha (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Aja, Alexandre (USA) 88min
To be fair, there’s nothing serious about this in-title redux of Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws spoof/homage: It’s clear from the outset that AJa is interested only in serving up a blowout beer n’ pretzels bounty of boobs n’ blood – and no one can claim he doesn’t make good on his offer. It’s just that it all feels, well, cheap. Set at an Arizona spring break hot spot, we are thrust into the off-putting company of hundreds of bootylicious co-ed horndogs out for some sun, fun, buns and booze. I don’t know about you, but I can’t relate to these people and while one could argue that’s the point, stupid, we just want to see ‘em get eaten up real good, it diminished the “fun factor” for me. The closest we come to a real character is Elizabeth Shue’s stressed-out sheriff, whose already unpleasant weekend of babysitting the drunken hordes is multiplied – courtesy of an earthquake-derived fissure – by the titular prehistoric fishy menace’s arrival from an underwater lake. There are some undeniably spectacular KNB gore moments, but they are matched by a wealth of underwhelming CGI effects shots – Richard Dreyfuss’ jaw-droppingly awful whirlpool sequence, anyone? Originally shot in 3D, there are “comin’ atcha” moments aplenty, and Kelly Brook & Riley Steele’s underwater nude ballet more than delivers its intended titillation (Brook’s “wild wild girl” is, in addition to being gorgeous, actually one of the few interesting and likeable characters). Ultimately, it’s not terrible, but never as much fun as it wants to be.

First Time Views: 44
Repeats: 46
Total Films: 90

1 comment:

  1. Since it's impossible to discuss HIGH TENSION without spoilers, let me just say that whenever I watch it, it's like going to bed with an incredibly sexy woman, turning off the lights, having **AMAZING** sex, then turning back on the light and discovering that somewhere in the middle, her brother snuck in and traded places with her. The sex was undeniably great, but it also feels liked I was lied to in the most intimate way for an extended amount of time.