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The 13th Philadelphia Film Festival began on Thursday and I’ve managed to fit 8 screenings into my schedule this year, including The Best of the 48 Hour Film Project, for which our film Lunch Break has been chosen!

My first film of the fest was last night’s Danger After Dark opener Haute Tension (High Tension).

Ostensibly filling a time-honored serial slasher mold, Haute Tension opens in familiar territory: College roommates Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) drive out to an isolated farmhouse for a vacation with Alex’s family. Before long, a sadistic killer (Phillipe Nahon, a suitably creepy French version of M. Emmet Walsh) shows up and gets down to the nasty business of redecorating the house with its inhabitants’ blood.

Many a talentless filmmaker has interpreted a similar script with predictably lifeless results (no pun intended), but Haute Tension trumps its would-be peers by cultivating very effective, genuine suspense and a consuming cloud of dread throughout. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve seen a film that was frightening in quite this way since the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Unfortunately, the film is a little too clever for its own good, and amidst the slicing and dicing, it manages to puncture its own plot in a number of places, all in an apparent attempt to justify basking in genre clichés that require no justification. Director Alexandre Aja’s yearning for that elusive third dimension is admirable, but his chosen M. Night Shyamalan tactics only muddle an otherwise exquisite retelling of that simple tale of deranged murder we all know and love.

Still, this is one tense and seriously grisly motherfucker of a horror movie, with an outstanding lead performance by De France.