"Love hurts, Love scars, Love wounds and mars"--Nazareth At the behest of several horror bloggers I finally got up the gumption ...

High (Sexual) Tension: Homicidal Lesbianism in Haute Tension

"Love hurts, Love scars, Love wounds and mars"--Nazareth

At the behest of several horror bloggers I finally got up the gumption to watch French horror import, High Tension. That’s not to say I had never heard of it before, I had, but the trailers left me thinking it was more of the same slasher fare I’d been sick of for years. That is until I read about the twist ending and decided to see for myself what the fuss was all about.

On an aesthetic level, High Tension warrants the high praise it’s been given at home and abroad. The film is beautifully shot, creepily atmospheric and gave me the first genuine thrill I’ve had in months. The movie starts out with Marie and Alexia, classmates traveling to the secluded country home of Marie’s parents for a quiet weekend of studying for college exams. But their plans are interrupted by a psychotic truck driver, who invades Marie’s home and kick starts a night of endless terror.

(If you don’t know the twist, turn back now! Spoilers and analysis to follow)
In a twist ending no one could see coming Director Alexandre Aja reveals that the “killer” has been Alexia all along. Aja puts a new and innovative spin on the trope of final-girl-as-killer that started, however campily, with Sleepaway Camp. Looking at the DVD cover we see Alexia exhausted, covered in blood and wounds, wielding a buzz saw. This image fits into our familiar conception of the final girl, who after hours of struggle and flight uses the killer’s own weapon to defeat him. Alexia also fits the physical image of the final girl to a tee. Her butch haircut and athletically skinny frame are a start contrast to the softer, more feminine Marie. Even her name, Alexia, is a derivative of the masculine “Alex”.
But Aja goes further to add a profound twist to the final-girl-as-killer tradition. In High Tension, the Killer is a projection of Alexia’s forbidden lesbian desire for Marie. Going out for a smoke, Alexia glimpses Marie nude in the upstairs shower. Alexia then retires to bed where she masturbates to U. Roy’s “Runaway Girl” It’s only after she orgasms that the killer appears and proceeds to murder Marie’s entire family.
Marie’s family represents the conventional model for heterosexual reproduction that threatens Alexia’s unnatural desire for Marie and must be killed. Alexia repeats over and over in her delirium that “Nobody will ever come between us again”— i.e. heterosexual society as represented by the family. By removing the family, Alexia eliminates the social constraints that make lesbianism taboo and creates a space where Marie and Alexia can be lovers.

The “killer” achieves this end by decapitating the father, slitting the mother’s throat and shooting the little brother. Aja stages these scenes ingeniously as the action switches between Alexia and the killer, giving the feeling of both remoteness and nearness. She is there but not there, a fitting description of her mental state as the “killer” takes over to do the dirty work.
The ending confrontation between Alexia and her killer is a fascinating case study in the return of the repressed. The Killer is Alexia’s grossly sexual counterpart and openly acknowledges Alexia’s forbidden sexual desire for Marie. He tells Alexia that Marie also turns him on as he forces Alexia to suck on his fingers in a motion that mimics fellatio. In the fight that ensues, Marie beats the Killer to a bloody pulp with a post wrapped in barbed wire (the film’s signature image). This fight can be read as Alexia’s struggle to repress or destroy her lesbian desire for Marie, an effort that ultimately fails. Instead the repressed returns, stronger than ever, to claim the object of its desire.
It’s intriguing that the projection of Alexia’s lesbian desire is male, as if to suggest that there is something inherently masculine or destructive about sapphic desire. It may remind some of the controversy surrounding Prodigy’s POV video for Smack My Bitch Up, where the activities of an unsexed narrator include intense violence, drug use and sexually aggressive behavior with women. As the video unfolds many assume the narrator is male, only to discover that the acts are being carried about by a woman.

Like this video, High Tension suggests that there something masculine and downright homicidal about lesbian desire. This can be seen as the killer pursues Marie as she crawls away from the scene of yet another murder. “You drive a woman crazy. You little slut.” the Killer admonishes, wagging his phallic saw in her face. The scene is reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, where Stretch does a bump and grind with Leatherface’s chainsaw to avoid being hacked to pieces, as Marie desperately cries out “Je t'aime!” to escape a buzz saw to the face. The Killer’s dialogue is also like that of a man justifying sexual violence against the unwilling object of his desire.
The next to final scene is chilling, as Marie skewers Alexia with a crow bar while the two kiss. A look of almost serene bliss crosses Alexia’s face as she begins repeating “Nobody will ever come between us again” For Alexia, the violence stands in for sex as Marie’s violent penetration symbolizes a consummation of their relationship.

It looks like love does hurt.

5 comments:

  1. I really liked this movie up until the end. That ending bothered the crap out of me, honestly. I find it really problematic that they represent her sexual alter-ego as some dirty old man.

    I liked everything that came before it though.

    Cool essay - you're working really hard! Wish the same could be said for me...

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  3. Thank you for this amazing post. I loved this film even though it left me feeling a little uneasy. Amazing blood and gore scenes, very dramatic. Such an amazing film.

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  4. all this blood, fantastic post/blog
    my zombie is full,
    iZombie

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  5. Sweet review. I loved the "twist" in this movie, it just just the icing on the pie.

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