Tag Archives: new french extremity

High Tension – Review

16 Sep

When you think of countries that make top of the line horror films, I normally think of places like Japan, Korea, or Italy. One of the last places you would expect to look is France, but recently France has  been adopting this style of film making that is dubbed New French Extremity. I’ve reviewed a film a while back called Martyrs, which was my first exposure to New French Extremity. Perhaps even more popular than Martyrs is High Tension, a horror film by Alexandre Aja that is genuinely terrifying, gory, and unpredictable.

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Alexia (Maïwenn) and Marie (Cècile De France) are in need of a vacation, so they head off to Alexia’s family’s farmhouse located far and away from the city so that they can get some quiet for their studies. Paradise soon finds it’s trouble when a mysterious killer (Philippe Nahon) breaks into their home and begins killing the entire family. Soon enough, it’s just down to Alexia and Marie, forcing Marie to take matters into her own hands and stop this killer before he has the chance to kill them.

Simple story, no doubt, but this is a slasher movie when you get right down to it and we all know exactly what we want when we turn one on. In the case of High Tension, I feel like I got a lot more than I was expecting. I heard a lot of good things about this movie, but I didn’t want to get myself all worked up over it and be disappointed when all was said and done, so I went in with a relatively blank slate. In the beginning, I was immediately impressed with the cinematography and the acting, especially for a movie of this genre. I didn’t even have a chance to get bored at this time, because Aja has such a way with building, for lack of a better word, tension.

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When the bodies begin to fall and the gallons of blood begin to pour, the pressure really gets turned up a notch. As a fan of horror movies, I feel like I’ve seen a lot that the genre has to offer. Good thing Alexandre Aja and his writing partner, Grégory Levasseur, are also huge fans of the horror genre. This puts them in a very good position, because now they can pay homage to horror films (High Tension seems like the child of two ’70s exploitation horror films I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left) but at the same time it creates new and interesting situations to keep the viewer interested. The scenes of suspense are crafted in such a way that I found myself not breathing, both out of fear, but also so I wouldn’t give away the location of the hiding women. Yes, this movie is violent and yes, it is ridiculously gory, but hey, that’s New French Extremity for you.

With these new situations and ways of telling a pretty archetypal story, there are things that audiences may not like, and this one has gotten some attention over the years. Without spoiling anything, the ending of this movie does something that makes the audience all say, as if synchronized, “Wait…what the hell?” To some people this will be awesome and make rewatching it a lot more fun than it was the first time around. Others will find this to be the most frustrating and ridiculous thing that could possibly happen. In my opinion, it worked. There are a lot of small winks and clues throughout the entire thing, and in terms of narrative, there are ways of explaining a lot of things that might seem unexplainable. As much as I want to talk about it, I really don’t want to give the ending away.

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High Tension will polarize a lot of people. I’m on the side of loving it. I really, really love this movie. It seems like there’s a lot of film makers who are afraid to really take their horror movies and turn up the terror to an 11, for the sake of getting a rating that will make the movie more accessible to wider audiences. Aja wasn’t afraid to go the extra mile. Granted, when it got to America (and being the wussiest country ever when it comes to movies) some of the scenes had to be toned down to get an R rating. If you get a hand on a copy of High Tension, make sure it’s the unrated copy, because you owe it to yourself to get the best possible version of this movie for maximum enjoyment and discomfort.

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Martyrs – Review

12 Feb

There seems to be a relatively new genre in gory horror films that have been labeled with the insulting name of “torture porn,” the most popular being Hostel.  While some of these films offer a grand abundance of gore, they aren’t always my cup of tea, like the overly excessive GrotesqueMartyrs technically doesn’t fall into this sub genre. It actually belongs to a sub genre called New French Extremity, which prides itself in being as graphic as possible with little to no censorship. Another reason this film stands apart is its strange philosophy and depth that creeps up from time to time.

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When Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) was a child, she was kidnapped and held hostage for a long period of time. While she was trapped, she was abused physically and psychologically. Eventually, she escaped. Fifteen years later, she, along with her only friend, Anna (Morjana Alaoui), has tracked down her tormentors. She soon gets her revenge, but finds out that she is still haunted by the demons that have been following her ever since her abduction. The two friends also begin to learn that there is something more sinister involving their kidnapping and torture, and may even be subjected to it one final time.

The narrative of this movie is structured in a very strange way. In school, I’ve learned that there are certain points that a film’s plot will hit. They are as follows: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Some people may have been taught differently, but this is just from my experience. Martyrs does hit some of these points, but at times it will seem to have missed one, or blurred it in such a way that it can be hard to miss. This is a very weird way to tell a story, and I’ve never really seen a movie that plays out like this one. At first, it’s kind of hard to adjust to the style, but once you do it’s really rewarding.

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Martyrs is a very shocking film in a couple of ways. The first half of the movie has to do with revenge, questioning morality, and haunting pasts. In this half, the audience is treated to one of the most horrifying specters to be put on screen. It contorts and bleeds and shrieks and wedged its way deeply into my subconscious, only to return when I’m home alone. The second half of the movie is when things really start getting weird. Brutality runs amok, and my limits were tested. Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting anything too terrible. Little did I know that I’d be leaving this movie thinking that it was one of the scariest that I have ever seen.

Returning to the weird narrative structure, I do want to briefly complain about the pacing in the beginning of the movie. There’s a period of about 20 minutes that can only be compared to a bowl of jello. It’s moving, but not going anywhere. I was watching the movie hoping and praying that the cool stuff wasn’t over in the first half hour of the movie. It picked up after a little bit, but every time I watch this movie, I know that there’s going to be a period where I’m going to be bored. I wish this whole segment wasn’t there. It is important for character development, but it’s really slow and doesn’t match the rest of the film at all.

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For a film that people label “torture porn”, the acting is at the top of its class. I was completely surprised with how well the actors performed. Special congratulations goes to Morjana Alaoui, who is in absolute control of all of the performances in the second half of the movie.

Martyrs is not a movie that can be easily stomached. I wouldn’t say it’s as shocking or controversial as A Serbian Film or even Antichrist, but it is something that will be lurking in your head and causing you to lose sleep for a long while to come. I will defend it till the end in saying that this is not torture porn. What Martyrs is to me is a twisted journey into the minds of troubled individuals engaging in troubling things. It’s disturbing psychology mixed with its brutality and sprinkling of philosophy pushes this film to be one of the best horror films of the past decade