Twists of fury: Haute Tension

In this feature, Vegan Voorhees examines those jaw-dropping revelations that the slasher film loves to bat our way from the blue, like a pushy parent tossing softballs at a kid who doesn’t want to learn baseball.

Today, we look at the much-divisive ending to French gore-a-thon Haute Tension (a.k.a. Switchblade Romance). If you’ve not seen it, then beware yon SPOILERS

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Set Up: Student Marie (Cecile de France – perfect name, given she is French!) goes with her friend Alex (Maiwenn) to Alex’s parents for a stay. On the first night, a overall-clad killer pulls up and begins offing the family one by one, kidnaps Alex, and Marie sets out to rescue her, resulting in THE tensest game of cat and mouse ever put to film.

Twist: It’s all in Marie’s head – there is no overall-clad killer at all. She’s done it all because she’s in love with Alex and is batshit crazy.

Problems with this revelation: Unlike the other Twists of Fury, Haute Tension‘s doesn’t so much crash through a wall of logic flaws earlier in the film that render it senseless; instead, it simply pulls the rug of terror out from under the feet of the audience.

In effect, the film has been one big lie and the reveal that Marie is a psychotic lesbian is a betrayal of everything that was – up until that point – good about the movie. The whole “Dead/Evil Lesbian” cliche is wrung dry and a little insulting. Marie, already seen ‘pleasuring herself’ to thoughts of Alex, would’ve been a great gay heroine otherwise.

Likely explanation: The need for a twist, as all mainstream horror groped for in the dark after The Sixth Sense in 1999. A simple “the killer is still at large” ending no longer original or scary, Alexandre Aja and his co-writer made the debatable error of opting for this revelation rather than let the film lie with Marie defeating the loon and saving her friend.

Haute Tension is otherwise an outstanding exercise in tension; bettered later by Cold Prey‘s trip down a similar lane of suspense over shocks and without a last second curveball. It’s really bloody, almost to the point where I don’t ever want to see it again. But I still need to review it.

8 comments

  • Haven’t seen it in ages, I remember there being a subtle clue or two which proceeded the big plot twist. I still find it problematic, more so due to it’s execution.

    I’ll give it another viewing and see if the big reveal has softened on me.

  • I remember this one so well! It really did have me on the edge of my seat and then… The ending disappointed me greatly. Up until then I loved it.

  • The “Oh, and the hero was the killer all along” twist.

    My second least favorite reveal, after the “Oh, and it was all just a dream or never actually happened” twist. At least this one can be handled with a bit of grace (unfortunately, High Tension was not one of those cases) unlike the dream/fake out ending, which is always insulting.

  • I’m very much agreeing with this article. While a little “EXTREME” horror for my taste at times (severed head BJ, the killing of the kid, etc), I was overall enjoying the voyage. Like LHOL (which is another tough film to take), the revenge aspect at the finish completed the experience for me. Then to have that tacked on, took the barbed wire 2×4 badassed-ness out of Marie’s hands.
    Most to most horror fans, hating on this aspect or this movie, is sacrilegious, but it just killed the experience for me. However, I love AFD’s surprise ending, so what do I know?

  • April Fool’s Day’s ending is awesome!

  • Love this movie. Even the ending. Just works for me.

  • The twist really makes you wonder what went down (besides the severed head) in the opening. Did Marie know that woman, or was she just some random girl Marie killed because she was horny?

  • …if indeed it happened at all!

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