Critic Daniel Kimmel complains about an “utterly moronic twist that comes out of left field and makes a hash out of much of what we have already had to endure;” Wesley Morris calls the film a “fraud” that doesn’t make an “iota of sense,” and notes that “what happens in the final minutes is narratively dumb -- and psychosexually ridiculous,” and Roger Ebert, who seldom seems worried enough about revealing the limits of his perceptions, complains about the “physically, logically and dramatically impossible” twist, which one can drive a “truck” through (punning on the fact that the “killer,” who apparently does not really exist save as a creation of the heroine’s fragmented personality, drives a truck that is apparently real). Brian Buzz Juergens gets the prize for the harshest rejection of the film’s central point, though:
I won’t speak in any detail about the final twist, but it stings like a
slap in the face. Take a step back, and it’s puzzling. Take another step
back, and it’s just stupid. Take another, and it’s actually quite offensive.
It’s bad enough to effectively ruin everything that comes before it, so I
feel that I at least have to mention it here, even without any details. If
M. Night Shyamalan’s movies piss you off, you haven’t seen anything – and
his twists actually make sense.
Well, so does the twist in High Tension, Buzz. If you paid attention to the significance of the fact that the heroine is masturbating as the killer approaches the house, say, you might actually have been less surprised by it. Even if the film doesn’t survive on the level of coherent narrative – fares even worse than Fight Club or Identity, which play similar tricks on us – there’s no reason why coherent narrative should be more important than the articulation of an idea. I mean, isn’t the watching of films intimately tied to the pursuit of meaning? Isn’t that what film is supposed to do, to stimulate our emotions and desires, so we can observe and think about them, and perhaps learn something about ourselves? Why are so many of the people who write about film so stupid, then? Why does an idea as obvious and as uncomplicated as the one behind High Tension seem to catch so many viewers unprepared?
Anyhow, while it’s far from essential viewing, the film seems like a reasonably harmless invitation to enjoy a horror film and think about it, too, which is actually quite close to my idea of a good time at the cinema; it’s a passably entertaining way to spend an evening. I’m sure Carol J. Clover would be passably amused by it and could productively include discussion of it in an updated version of Men, Women, and Chainsaws. It belongs on the lowbrow edge of the “genre” that has been ironically dubbed New French Extremity (art films with lots of gore, brutal violence, and/or sex in them – the films of Gaspar Noe being the best known other example of this style of filmmaking). The DVD, somewhat amusingly, has three different versions of the film on it: the first is partially dubbed, but (if I’m getting this right – it’s a little complicated) uncensored; the second is completely dubbed and partially censored; the third is subtitled and uncensored. Pretty ridiculous. I've yet to check to see which of the three is the default -- it'll be a handy litmus test to determine just how dumb (or how smart) the people at Lions Gate think their audience is.