One of the problems with a film that holds a final plot twist is that even if you keep yourself in the dark, just the knowledge that there is a twist at all will leave you guessing at it throughout the film. And here I've just done it to you, like a virus.
J. and I attended an advance screening of High Tension a few nights ago. The emcee from the radio station introduced the film by saying that they had no idea what it was about and, from the trailer they caught just hours ago, they determined that it could very well be a scary movie. From the reaction of the crowd, almost know one in the theatre had any idea what they were in for. High Tension is a stripped down tale of survival horror, with the protagonist, Marie, both eluding and combating a perverted serial killer who has taken her best friend, Alex, as some sort of trophy.
The audience was almost completely silent throughout the gruesome parts of High Tension, with only one exception. This was the only time in all my years of seeing horror movies in the theatre that I heard a person scream at something that wasn't a boo scare. It was bizarre, as a scene that was slow, disturbing and messy prompted a woman to very slowly let out a whimpering scream that turned into a strangled howl of terror. The gore on display, while at times pleasingly over the top, never forgot that truly effective scares come from simplicity and a desire to show us grotesque, painfully empathic sights without merely throwing lots of blood at the wall (though there's that too).
I'm a great admirer of entertainment that strips away commonplace yet needlessly distracting elements, choosing instead to expand on what little is left. A comic book with static panel placement, or a limited amount of characters in a novel, or, in the case of High Tension, a brutally simplistic plot which allows the suspense to shine through. The conflict between the two main characters is so bare bone that every little detail of their cat and mouse game is allowed to be explored further and given deeper meaning, and its those very same touches that most stand out after viewing. Even the dialogue is kept to a minimum once the mayhem starts, rendering practically meaningless the wrongheaded decision to dub parts of the film while leaving the remainder subtitled, a choice that resulted in more then a few guffaws from the audience. The charm of such a film isn't necessarily in providing an original story but in presenting it in such a way that we remember why we were drawn to such tales of extraordinary resolve in the face of horrifying circumstances in the first place. It's too bad that the film-makers couldn't carry their "less is more" ethos all the way across the finish line.
I work in the commercial arts, and when I'm asked what the most important aspect of success in that field, I say it's getting it "not wrong". On a ridiculously tight deadline it's ok if your work isn't very accomplished, or even satisfactory, so long as it doesn't have a glaring error that will distract the viewer. I'm aware of the rationale and clues that lead up to the twist, thanks. But I think sometimes an artist can be so close to their work that they don't realize that something obvious to someone working on the project for many months, if not years, will be gone in a flash for their intended audience. Far be it from me to suggest that films should never be subtle, but there are ways to reinforce a message without necessarily hitting the viewer over the head with it all at once. In the end it seems that the creators of High Tension believed that their twist was either not important enough to fully consider, or that it was obvious enough for a general audience to grasp. Either way, I think it was largely a superfluous and annoying aberration to an otherwise remarkable movie.