Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur
Starring: Cécile de France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon
Country: France
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 2003

Director Alexandre Aja is a fairly contentious name when it comes to horror films. For some, he’s a director who improves on horror films with great concepts but never fully lived up to them (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha) but for others, he’s inconsistent and has more misses than hits. For me, I’m in the middle when it comes to Aja’s work. I like his Hills remake and I think Piranha 3D is a hell of a time, but his original work like Crawl doesn’t offer much of interest, in my eyes. 

The exception to that rule, in part, is Haute Tension, or as it’s known by English audiences, High Tension (and in the UK, Switchblade Romance), a film that alongside films such as Martyrs, Inside and Frontier(s) (which I reviewed last year, read that here) became the poster child for the New French Extremity movement in the 2000s. I’ve spoken before about how fascinated I am by the movement, even if I’m not huge on all of the films that people bring up as the “best” but on my initial viewing of Haute Tension, I had a really great time with it, although when it comes to the third act, I had my reservations. 

So, when Second Sight Films announced that they were releasing the film on Limited Edition UHD and Blu-ray, I had to review it so I could give this film a second chance and see if it’s the masterpiece that people consider it to be. 

The film follows two women, Marie and Alexia who are staying at Alexia’s parents house for a weekend, until a man arrives during the late hours of the night and murders Alexia’s father before trying to murder the rest of the family. I won’t give anything else away, as that’s the general gist and to say more would be considered spoiling the film, primarily due to certain revelations in the third act of the film. 

I enjoyed my time with Haute Tension on this rewatch, around about the same that I did on my first viewing. It’s far from a perfect film and that reveal is something. Whenever the film pops up in my head, Roger Ebert’s classic quote about the third act always comes to mind where he states that “the movie’s plot has a hole that is not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact does have a truck driven right through it.” It’s hilarious, but it’s also true as it’s something that makes very little sense, even on a rewatch when you’re clued into the tricks it has up its sleeves. 

Still, the film’s an entertaining thriller with some really gnarly gore, courtesy of Lucio Fulci’s regular special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi, who has a solid interview on this disc, an eerie score from François Eudes, a trio of solid lead performances, with my favourite being I Stand Alone’s Philippe Nahon and really good direction from Aja. I’d probably say that this is his best looking film and while I have some issues with the colour grade on this release, which I go into below, it’s a really slick looking film and has some absolutely outstanding shots. 

Do I love it? Not really. Did I have a good time? Sure. It’s something that I truly hope I fully come around on someday, as it has all of the ingredients for a film that should theoretically be right up my alley, but certain story decisions hold it back drastically from being a truly great film. Still, for fans of the film or the New French Extremity movement, this is a very good release that’s worth a spot in your collection.



High Tension releases January 22nd on Limited Edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray via Second Sight Films, as well as standard 4K UHD and Blu-ray releases too. I viewed the UHD disc and I have mixed opinions on the look, primarily with the colour grade. While my previous viewing was many years ago on Shudder, I remember the film looking a lot brighter than the brand-new director approved HDR10+ grade that’s present here. While there’s no issues with compression, there’s healthy bit-rates across the board and the image quality is great, the colour grade is so dark that it’s near impossible to make out what’s going on early on in the film. I tweaked my TV settings and even then, I found the new grade so dark to the point that it became distracting. This improves as the film continues, and a section involving a gas station looks outstanding, but it’s something to take note of. There’s no Dolby Vision grade, and I can’t compare this to the prior German 4K which housed a DV grade, but it’s something that I felt the need to point out. Audio wise, there’s two options, a French DTS HD MA 5.1 track and a French LPCM 2.0 stereo track. I viewed the film with the DTS MA track and everything sounded excellent there. Optional English subtitles are included. The following extras are included:

Dual format edition including both UHD and Blu-ray with main feature and bonus features on both discs

  • UHD presented in HDR10+ created by Second Sight Films and approved by Director Alexandre Aja
  • New audio commentary by Dr Lindsay Hallam
  • An Experiment in Suspense: a new interview with Alexandre Aja
  • The Man in the Shadows: a new interview with Writer Grégory Levasseur
  • The Darker the Better: an interview with Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre
  • The Great French Massacre: an interview with Special Effects Artist Giannetto De Rossi
  • Only the Brave: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on High Tension
  • Archive ‘Making of’ featurette
  • Archive Interview with Cécile De France
  • Archive Interview with Maïwenn
  • Archive Interview with Philippe Nahon

Limited Edition Contents

  • Rigid slipcase with new artwork by James Neal
  • 70-page book with new essays by ​​Anna Bogutskaya, Prince Jackson, Stacie Ponder and Zoë Rose Smith
  • 6 collectors’ art cards 

Audio commentary by Dr Lindsay Hallam – This brand new audio commentary, recorded exclusively for this Second Sight release by Dr. Lindsay Hallam is a good listen. Hallam touches on a lot of the themes of the film, from the opening frames and dialogue that pays off later in the film, from a slash on the back of the protagonist feeling like a homage to Frankenstein’s monster, to the references to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with the sound design. Fans of High Tension will enjoy this audio commentary.

An Experiment in Suspense – A brand new 35 minute interview with director Alexandre Aja where he opens up by discusses his history with horror, becoming friends with writer Grégory Levasseur while reading about Wes Craven’s Shocker, their first short film collaboration and coming up with the UK title for High Tension, which was Switchblade Romance. There’s discussions about the ending, including that reveal and how producer Luc Besson was the reason Aja didn’t go with his original ending. There’s also a great segment where he talks about Lionsgate picking up the film for US distribution and the changes they made to the film, as well as his excitement for the new master compared to prior DVD releases. Hearing Aja talk about the production is fascinating and as per usual with the interviews conducted for Second Sight’s releases, it’s top notch. 

The Man in the Shadows – A brand new 19 minute interview with writer Grégory Levasseur. There’s a little bit of overlap with Aja’s interview, such as the discussion on how the two became friends due to Craven’s film Shocker but Levasseur is a fun interviewee. He talks about the film Furia that the pair worked on and what led to the creation of High Tension. Levasseur mentions how the horror scene in France wasn’t huge at the time, with some exceptions like Eyes Without a Face so he and Aja set out to make one of the first big French horror films. It’s another great, informative interview.

The Darker the Better – A brand new 18 minute interview with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. There’s a fun anecdote about shooting at night-time during the car chase in the film that opens the interview. Unlike the last two interviewees, Alexandre wasn’t a horror fan prior to working on High Tension so hearing how terrified he was at films like Argento’s Deep Red and on the set of High Tension was charming to see. Also, his enthusiasm for shooting on 35mm is absolutely delightful and out of all of the interviews included, I enjoyed this one the most for Alexandre’s enthusiasm throughout. 

The Great French Massacre – A brand new interview with special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi who talks about meeting Aja and Levasseur, who were huge fans of his work on films like Lucio Fulci’s Zombi and due to their passion, he accepted the role as High Tension’s special effects artist. He touches on different ways to make fake blood for films and his knowledge for how to craft special effects is apparent instantly. He’s another fun interviewee and this is one of his last ever interviews, given his passing in 2021. 

Only the Brave: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on High Tension is a 13 minute video essay from the excellent Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who’s made a name for herself with a series of excellent video essays on releases from Second Sight Films, Arrow Video and more. I always enjoy hearing her essays as they offer a unique read into whatever film she’s covering, and this video essay is no different. Heller-Nicholas touches on the final girl trope, coined by Carol J. Clover in Men, Women And Chainsaws – Gender In The Modern Horror Films and how it’s utilised in Aja’s High Tension. It’s a great watch that I’d highly recommend

An archival making-of documentary is included called High Tension: The Making of a Survival that runs for 38 minutes and covers all aspects of the production that you’d hope for. There’s behind the scenes footage, unused takes, interviews with all of the cast and crew and more. It’s fascinating watching this after the newly filmed interviews with Aja, Levasseur and others and even though there’s a bit of overlap (which is to be expected), it’s still absolutely worth checking out! 

A series of three archival interviews are included with the three primary cast members. First up is a 23 minute archival interview with Cécile De France who touches on everything that drew her to the project such as the story and how packed with thrills it was as well as how it felt like a once in a lifetime role for her. A solid interview! Next, there’s a 5 minute archival interview with actor Maïwenn who discusses her working relationship with Aja, how the screenplay attracted her to the film and more. It’s brief, but a nice inclusion. Finally, there’s a 5 minute archival interview, this time with actor Philippe Nahon. He talks about how he didn’t initially want to take the role due to fears of being typecast as an antagonist, especially after coming off of Gaspar Noé’s I Stand Alone. There’s some discussion about what work went into his character but like the prior interview, it’s a short one so don’t expect things to get super in-depth. Another nice inclusion. All three interviews are worth checking out and it’s great to see these included!

I wasn’t provided with any of the physical goodies, such as the collector’s book, the hard case or the art cards but I assume they’re up to the typically great standards of a Second Sight Films release. 

Second Sight’s release of High Tension isn’t one of my favourite releases of theirs, but it’s a good effort with a great array of bonus features and audio, but with a transfer that’s hampered by an inconsistent colour grade. Like the UHD release of Michael Mann’s Heat from a few years back, I can see people taking issue with how dark the colour grade is, but it’s still a significant jump from prior masters so it’s a trade-off that will work for some, but maybe not for others. Fans of the film will be delighted to see it get the special edition treatment and outside of my issues with the colour grade, it’s another solid release from Second Sight.


Where to watch Haute Tension
High Tension - Second Sight Films
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