"High Tension" offers shameless thrills

Released abroad in 2003 and titled "Switchblade Romance" in England, "High Tension" was considered "too graphic for American distribution." It played uncut at the Seattle International Film Festival last year, but it's been trimmed by one minute for today's nationwide R-rated release.

Either way, this gruesome French import is a lame exercise, delivering shameless thrills at the expense of logic and genuine suspense. It's the kind of blood-soaked homage you'd expect from young filmmakers addicted to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but longtime pals Alexandre Aja (who's now working on a remake of Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes") and co-writer/production designer Gregory Levasseur haven't learned from the classics. They demonstrate technical skill without a shred of common sense.

That quality is also absent in the behavior of Marie (Cécile de France), who accompanies her best friend Alexia (Maïwenn) for a weekend at the secluded home of Alexia's parents. Late at night, a hulking stranger (Philippe Nahon) intrudes, sporting greasy coveralls, a baseball cap and a ruthless urge to kill. He's no Leatherface, but he leaves a bloody trail of carnage. Alexia is bound, gagged and trucked away by the killer, and repressed lesbian Marie goes into payback mode.

Arbitrary sound effects (including white-noise static whenever the killer's nearby) provide artificial dread. More annoying is Marie's panicky ineptitude; she's trapped in a dim-witted script. Too bad, because de France is well-cast as an alluring tomboy. Previously seen in Disney's "Around the World in 80 Days," she plays the fright game with gusto to spare.

There's a twist, but it's a schizoid ploy that's hokey and unoriginal, rendering "High Tension" null and void.

Movie review 1.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"High Tension," with Ccile de France, Mawenn, Philippe Nahon. Directed by Alexandre Aja, from a screenplay by Aja and Gregory Levasseur. In dubbed English and French, with English subtitles. 85 minutes. Rated R for graphic bloody killings, sexual content and language. Several theaters.