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28 Things We Learned from Alexandre Aja’s High Tension Commentary

Haute Tension_French Extremism
By  · Published on October 19th, 2016

“The frog is becoming a prince. This is a children’s movie.”

High Tension (2003)

Commentators: Alexandre Aja (director/co-writer), Grégory Levasseur (co-writer/art director)

1. They asked the production company, Europa, “if it was possible to cut the head off” the female figure in their opening logo. Unsurprisingly, Europa said no. “It’s a shame because it could be very funny to have her head fall in the water and put blood everywhere.” Yup, this is an Alexandre Aja commentary.

2. The French title translates both to “high tension” and “high voltage.” They considered other English titles including Switchblade Romance, “but it was maybe too campy.” They settled on High Tension as it very clearly summed up the intended feel of the film.

3. They filmed in Romania, near Bucharest. They feel it looks exactly like southern France where the film is set.

4. The isolated house was difficult to find in Bucharest though as the country’s Communist history led to the destruction of such homes. They had to settle on a mill and then modify it into a house with some of the furniture being used to hide old machinery, but some of the interiors are from other houses all together.

5. They’ve gotten “a few questions” about the scene showing the killer (Philippe Nahon) watching the house from his truck well before Marie (Cécile De France) even arrives, but it’s explained away by the fact that we’re seeing the story Marie is telling back at the hospital.

6. The early scene where Marie and Alexia (Maïwenn) are in the corn originally included a shot of Marie noticing the killer’s truck at the edge of the field, but they removed it feeling it was too disturbing having just glimpsed his unique take on road head a few minute earlier.

7. They’re angry at themselves for forgetting to include Ricky the dog in the end credits. “He was great.”

8. That’s not a real bathroom/shower that Marie sees Alexia in through the window. This should surprise no one seeing as the angle – Marie is looking up to the second floor, yet she can still see Alexia from the ass up – would mean it was some kind of step-up shower conveniently located next to a large window. “It’s just a prop guy putting some water” on her.

9. They originally planned to have the entire film set in the house before deciding to open up the locations. “We realized that the night was the real location of the movie.”

10. The killer’s truck, a Citroen H, is probably the most well-known French vehicle. They acknowledge the similarity to Duel and Jeepers Creepers, but say it’s uniquely French with the added benefit of the appearance at the front of creepy facial features.

11. The hulking, ogre-like appearance of the killer is a loose reflection of a real French serial killer, Émile Louis.

12. Nahon was already tired of playing villains when they approached him for the film and initially passed, but they ultimately convinced him to go dark one more time.

13. They consulted with a coroner regarding details of blood spray and such, so they stand by the crimson gush that shoots from the father’s neck after he’s beheaded by a bureau.

14. The lens flare at 26:07 silhouettes the killer’s head by complete accident. The intention was simply to back-light him, but they’re happy with the lucky result.

15. They view it as a love story between Marie and Alexia. Hmm.

16. The scene where the killer slices the mother’s throat had to be re-shot a few times – each time requiring a whole new make-up rig – because Nahon was uncomfortable and fearful of pressing too hard across the actress’ neck.

17. They originally planned to show the boy’s death via his brains launched toward the camera after being shot in the back of the head, but ultimately decided “it was a little bit too much.”

18. The producers were initially upset that the film was so dark visually.

19. The gas station attendant’s murder by ax was modeled on The Shining’s similar kill, and they watched the sequence multiple times to understand the shot. The moment of contact took a few tries and ultimately involved “meat and sand.”

20. The attendant is played by an American friend of theirs named Franck Khalfoun who later went on to direct his own films including P2 and the Maniac remake.

21. Similarly, the public bathroom scene is modeled on Maniac. (Not coincidentally, Levasseur would go on to write the remake ten years later). It didn’t require meat or sand, but it took cleaners three days to make it bearable.

22. Aja is inside the car throughout most of the chase with the killer’s truck. The only sequence he wasn’t in there for is the end where the car flips off the road.

23. The script originally called for the killer to finger both Marie’s mouth and inside her pants. They dropped the second half after realizing maybe that was going a bit too far.

24. Aja tried at first to keep De France and Nahon separated during filming in the hopes of enhancing the antagonistic fear between them, but he quickly realized that was “really dumb.” The two actors became good friends.

25. The foot chase at the end with the giant circular saw is a tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

26. The shot with blood splashing onto the camera lens was “a lucky accident.” The camera was a rental, and after production they got calls from another filmmaker wondering why the camera was “bleeding” when they positioned it in certain ways.

27. The glass is Alexia’s foot is a tribute to The Hills Have Eyes which is another film the pair would go on to remake.

28. They make no mention of Dean Koontz’s Intensity.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“She’s masturbating and the killer arrives, and I think there’s an underlying link between both events.”

“She’s running from herself.”

“I don’t think it’s so easy to stab a person, even if that person killed your family.”

“Everything was real in this scene, even he was a Romanian guy so he was easy to kill.”

Final Thoughts

I still love this movie and hate its ending, and the commentary has done nothing to change that. It remains curious how the first hour of the film feels lifted almost directly from Koontz’s 1996 novel, but he’s never sued them so I see no reason to get irked by any of it. The track is a good mix of anecdotes and detailed filming information, and if you can get beyond the two thick French accents it’s worth a listen.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.