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Ultra HD : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: January 22nd, 2024 Movie Release Year: 2003

High Tension - Second Sight Limtied Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray [UK Import]

Overview -

4K UHD Review By: Sam Cohen

Contemporary horror got a shot of adrenalized transgression with the New French Extremity in the aughts, and Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is rightfully held up as one of the key films in this specifically voracious film movement. Second Sight Films has upgraded this hallmark of French horror to 4K Ultra HD with a two-disc release that offers a stellar 2160p presentation of the film aided by HDR, newly produced supplements involving original cast and crew, plus four new booklet essays to deepen your knowledge of the film. As with most releases from the folks at Second Sight Films, this is a terrific release for genre fans to enjoy again and again. This release comes Highly Recommended!

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p HEVC/H.265 HDR10/HDR10+
Length:
91
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.35:1
Audio Formats:
French: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles/Captions:
English
Release Date:
January 22nd, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Ah, High Tension. There are so many fond memories around this one and its oft-tenuous reception upon release. Surprisingly, the film didn’t exactly turn into an overnight sensation after its premiere as a Midnight Madness selection at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. But after it premiered there, TIFF really opened the Midnight Madness series to other New French Extremity entries like Calvaire, Sheitan, Frontier(s), Inside, and Martyrs.

All of these films are perfectly suited for a genre audience at midnight, though the staying power of their violence is because of its direct link to the genre’s focus on national politics and taboo subjects, like rape and sexual assault. There’s a reason why these same films have been derided for their empty violence while simultaneously having praise heaped upon their bravery: their power is innately human. How we dehumanize ourselves to suit others are writ large across the genre.

High Tension follows Marie (Cécile de France) and Alex (Maïwenn), two best friends and students who go away for the weekend to Alex’s parent’s house to study. When the night falls and the girls go to bed, their world is upset by a violent serial killer at the front door. Soon, the killer is cutting his way through Alex’s family on a murderous rampage. Will Alex and Marie make it out alive?

The unhealthy dependency that Marie has on Alex in their friendship is the greatest trick the devil (Alexandre Aja) ever pulled, and it’s the kind of plot twist that only aids the vaguely detailed story before it all. We see Marie normally communicating and interacting with Alex, but something is amiss. In the very small details, particularly in very close, intimate moments, you can ascertain there’s an unease at play, as if someone’s feelings aren’t being validated. Between shocking scenes of bloodletting, though, the horror makeup takes center stage and tends to overwhelm those subtleties. That’s precisely the unique power that Aja’s gross-out and grimy aesthetic has on the viewer. Exactly the kind of fractured storytelling that aids a story of a fractured brain.

The ending has been debated ad nauseum and I don’t wish to explain the many ways in which it both respects the genre and audience, but it’s quite fascinating to watch people dismiss it as if it’s some slight against Marie’s subdued queerness. The big twist, at least to this reviewer, pulls back the many failings of Marie’s idea of queerness and how it’s only been influenced by gross misogyny to the point where it developed into self-hatred. It’s the kind of narrative sleight of hand that shouldn’t work in horror and to be fair, it doesn’t totally work in practice.

High Tension recalls the violent and sadistic horror of the 1970s, complete with make-up done by Giannetto de Rossi (one of Lucio Fulci’s regular collaborators) and the constant ratcheting of tension with every new scene. To Aja, the propulsion that the story reaches in its violence ends up driving the viewer to view the film a certain way, but it’s the constant misdirection and various plot holes that make you reflect and appreciate the art more. This hugely divisive film only gains power the more you talk about it, even if you just find more stuff to dislike and hate. 

Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Get your concrete saw ready because High Tension has arrived in 4K Ultra HD with a two-disc (UHD100 for the 4K and Region B-locked BD50 for the Blu-ray) release that comes housed in Second Sight’s custom limited-edition packaging. A digipack holding both discs, a perfect-bound essay book and six collectors’ art cards all fit snugly in the rigid slipcase. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, select chapters, set up audio and explore bonus features.

Video Review

Ranking:

Not much information has been given on this new 4K presentation, though we can most likely ascertain it’s from the same master used on the Plaion (German) 4K Blu-ray release, which was itself sourced from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. The big difference between that German 4K release and this one, though, is that Second Sight Films has offered a new HDR10/HDR10+ grade supervised by Alexandre Aja while the German version offers Dolby Vision (but not supervised by Aja). I cannot speak to the quality difference between the two but can confidently report that this new HEVC-encoded 2160p presentation from Second Sight is an absolute stunner. That grimy, oil-stained aesthetic is preserved wonderfully in this very filmic transfer. Black levels gain a huge boost over previous releases where crushing was a major issue, and I can tell that the contrast has been dialed in wonderfully to balance the somewhat thicker grain field in lower-lit shots. 

The source is in remarkable condition with nary a moment of damage to note, plus the HDR10+ layer pulls the most out of the source without blowing out the highlights. Average max frame light levels reach 300 nits and nothing more, which is very pleasing since this film deals so heavily in shadow detail. With a bitrate that’s consistently high with no digital artifacts to be found, I can confidently say that this is the best the film has ever looked at home. Second Sight has done it again.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Second Sight provides both original 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo tracks in the DTS-HD MA codec. There was a 7.1 track on the German 4K Blu-ray release that’s not here, although I’d assume that’s due to licensing issues instead of pure malfeasance, but the 5.1 track here is every bit as sharp and aggressive as the film is. You’ll hear plenty of effects coming out of the rear channels, all adding to the unmistakable sense of unease at play throughout the film. Source seems to be in terrific condition with no damage to note.

Special Features

Ranking:

No surprise plot twist here! Second Sight has absolutely stacked this edition with newly produced and archival supplements for fans to enjoy. The new interview with Alexandre Aja, in particular, is very enlightening in what his approach was and his thoughts on the divisive twists within the film. It’s clear Aja wasn’t trying to piss people off with misdirection and some insincere attempt at queer horror, and it’s fascinating to watch a filmmaker reconcile with the criticisms of his work. And as usual, the new video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is nothing short of a deep dive into the ‘final girl’ trope and how that particular trope is upended in High Tension whether it was filmmaker intent or not. No matter if this is your first round or umpteenth rewatch, you’ll find essential details about the production and its legacy here.

  • Audio Commentary with Dr. Lindsay Hallam (2023)
  • An Experiment in Suspense -- 2023 Interview with director Alexandre Aja (HD 35:17)
  • The Man in the Shadows -- 2023 Interview with writer Grégory Levasseur (HD 19:06)
  • The Darker the Better -- Interview with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (HD 17:56)
  • The Great French Massacre -- Interview with special effects artist Giannetto de Rossi (SD 17:53)
  • Only the Brave: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on High Tension video essay (HD 13:27)
  • Haute Horror: Making of High Tension 2003 documentary (SD 38:05)
  • 2003 Interview with Cécile de France (SD 22:57)
  • 2003 Interview with Maïwenn (SD 5:48)
  • 2023 Interview with Phillippe Nahon (SD 5:28)

Is there anything more 2003 than Muse’s New Born blasting through a movie? Well, High Tension has that and heaping helpings of shocking gore to boot. Second Sight Films in the UK brings Alexandre Aja’s High Tension home to genre fans everywhere with a 4K Blu-ray release that pulls out all the stops for this much-discussed work of the New French Extremity. This release comes Highly Recommended

Order Your Copy of High Tension on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray