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It’s really no surprise that High Tension ended up badly dubbed into English. After all, most multiplexgoers with a horror jones don’t see movies with subtitles. But Paris-born director Alexandre Aja’s third feature, an homage to the ’70s American horror flick full of gut-churning, barely-R-earning body trauma, is practically screaming to be seen by them. Mind you, the movie is less than promising at first. On a break from college, lesbian hottie Marie (Cécile de France) and Hilary Swank lookalike Alex (Maïwenn) venture out to the country to study at Alex’s new family home, a restored farmhouse full of exposed brick and nestled against a not particularly menacing cornfield. Aja, who co-wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Gregory Levasseur, does his best to build, as the film’s original title has it, haute tension: Alex says she sees someone in the corn, Marie frets openly about those oh-so frightening Gallic “rednecks,” and, in the film’s most groanworthy scene, a pudgy stranger gets serviced by a dismembered head. The film earns its title, however, when said stranger (Irreversible’s Philippe Nahon) breaks into Alex’s house and begins the inevitable bloodletting. It’s then that the characters finally shut up—handily eliminating the dubbing problem—and viewers get a chance to focus in on the arty-grainy cinematography and genre-transcendent acting. That bodies pile up and Aja lovingly documents the carnage will be savored by the grindhouse faithful. Others, however, may notice that the violence has a certain je ne sais quoi—a certain sickening edge. Like Irreversible director Gasper Noé, Aja aims for maximum realism, meaning that every slammed head, slit throat, and bashed face is denied its traditional slasher-film cartoonishness. Only the most over-the-top set piece, a blatant ode to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s final scene, is surreal enough to be enjoyable purely as visual spectacle. Despite his movie’s source material, Aja (whose next project is a remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes) seems less interested in retro thrills than in exploring the antagonist’s view of events. People, after all, justify their own actions—even the murderous ones. For those with-us-or-against-us freedom-fries types who want their evil to be pure and uncomplicated, it’s High Tension’s empathy, not its violence, that will be most unsettling. —Brent Burton