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July 6, 2010

Random Horror Throwdown - High Tension vs. Orphan

Hey boys and girls, there are going to be some REALLY HUGE SPOILERS right about here. You see, this week's Random Horror Throwdown features two of the most absurd twist endings in recent horror history. In one corner, we have High Tension - in which two young women are chased across the French countryside by a murderous madman who is in fact one of the girls' herself, suffering from multiple personalities or schizophrenia or whatever - and Orphan - in which a murderous adoptee is revealed to be a Russian ex-prostitute dwarf or midget or whatever. I know I'm probably getting the details wrong, but they shouldn't have been so ridiculous.


The Movies:

High Tension (2003, Dir. by Alexandre Aja.)
Starring: Cecile De France, Maiwenn, Phillipe Nahon.
IMDB Synopsis: Two female college students, Marie and Alexa, set off to Alex's parents' secluded homestead in the country to relax and study. Come nightfall, Hell pulls up at the front door when a mysterious killer breaks in and kills Alexa's father, mother, brother, and pet dog. Alex is now bound and gagged, taken off by the killer, with Marie not far behind eluding the intruder. Can she save her friend's life in time, or is everything all that it seems...? (Note from The Mike: This guy should be in sales. Despite the weird punctuation at the end, I want to see this now!)

Orphan (2009, Dir. by Jaume Collet-Serra.)
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman.
IMDB Synopsis: A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be. (Note from The Mike: Of course she's not as innocent as she claims to be! She's a Russian ex-prostitute dwarf!)

The Casts:
OK, I don't speak French and am Americanese. Thus, I have no idea who the people in High Tension are. Apparently Maiwenn was in The Professional and The Fifth Element (and had a kid with Luc Besson in real life). And Cecile De France was in the 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days...though if nobody saw it, was she really in it?

As for Orphan, the duo of Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga are awesome. And we can't take away from little Isabelle Fuhrman, who is not a Russian ex-prostitute dwarf yet gives a relatively believable performance in the role. Despite the presence of young Jimmy Bennet, who is probably my least favorite actor of all-time, I have to give a point to Orphan here. (1-0 Orphan leads.)

My Experience With the Films:
I'm not terribly connected with either of these films, though I do have fond memories of High Tension opening at the local art house theater back when I was employed there. It was rare for us to get a horror film, so I was quite pleased. The only joy I've ever gotten from Orphan, is from when I had the ending spoiled for me - willingly - because I couldn't stand to wait to hear how ridiculous it was. Laughs were had. Oh, and also, I have to say how much I love that High Tension poster. I've had it on my wall a few times. I guess that's worth a point for High Tension. (1-1.)

The Directors:
Jaume Collet-Serra has three films under his belt. One is Orphan, one is a soccer movie, and one is the remake of House of Wax with Paris Hilton. By default, Orphan is definitely the best thing he's done. On the other hand, despite High Tension probably being the movie I've most enjoyed from Alexandre Aja, I kinda like him a lot. The Hills Have Eyes remake wasn't crap, and now he's got Piranha 3-D coming out. Piranha 3-D stars my true love, Elisabeth Shue. Aja knows Elisabeth Shue! Thus, his movie gets a point (2-1, High Tension leads.)

So really, how ridiculous are these plot twists?
Well, Orphan hinges on the fact that little Esther has hypopituaritism, a disease that results from the pituitary gland in the brain not producing hormones as it should. In the case of Esther, we have to believe that Esther's main problem was with the growth hormone and not others like the luteinizing hormone, which would have lead to a lack of libido that wouldn't work for a Russian ex-prostitute. I guess it's entirely possible that someone would suffer this way, but I have to wonder how such a disease could have gone untreated for so long while she continued to pose as a child.

As far as High Tension goes, there's a little movie from 1960 that showed us all that alternate personas as killers can work. Though that film's "psychology" has now been pretty much debunked, it's fine with me that High Tension decided to rely on this. What's not OK is how the story handled this, including the fact that large portions of the film feature a truck being driven by the killer being chased by a vehicle driven by the young woman who's revealed to be the killer.

So, in conclusion, they're both quite ridiculous. No points are awarded here.

The Plots:
Y'know, for about 70 minutes, I really liked what High Tension had to offer as a slasher film, a subgenre that was entirely dead during that part of the decade. It was brutal, it was well shot, it lived up to that awesome Sonic Youth-filled trailer. If I get past the silliness of who's driving who, I kinda want to say I like it.

Then there's Orphan, which could have worked really well in a The Good Son kind of way, except for the fact it seemed to go on for a half-hour too long. (Coincidentally, I recall Collet-Serra's Wax remake also being far too long. Someone get him an editor, stat!) It offered a fine cast, some strong chills, and I can almost forgive the twist based solely on Fuhrman's performance. I'd honestly say that both films featured a perfect idea for a horror film, but both were handled poorly.

This Choice is Like:
I rarely mention it here, but I'm a pretty big sports fan. If God came down from above and said "The Mike, I'll let the Packers win every game they play, including Super Bowls, for the rest of eternity, but you can never watch another movie", I'd sign on a dotted line in an instant. I might even agree to trade my DVD collection to said God, asking only for the damnation of John Elway in return.
So this matchup kind of reminds me of the NFC title game from 2008, in which the Packers tried everything they possibly could to lose to the New York Giants, only to have the Giants meet them by doing everything they could to not win the game. The game went to overtime, and the Packers had the momentum, and everything seemed to be coming together...and then they made another mistake and finally lost the game, despite a historic home field advantage and a not-yet-annoying future Hall of Fame quarterback. (Oh, and then the Giants went on to pull off the biggest upset of all-time by beating the undefeated Patriots, too.)

What does that have to do with this pair of films? I don't know, but it's depressing. And both of these twists took away from what could have been great horror films, which is also depressing. In the end, I guess I'd say that Orphan had the home field advantage by being a big budget American production and, despite going to overtime and being a near two-hour horror film, managed to make just enough mistakes to give High Tension this point and the 3-1 victory. Lets hope Aja has some of the same magic that that Giants team had as he moves forward, because if he screws up a film that stars my darling Elisabeth Shue, I just might rage out and then cry.

(Note from The Mike: Not that that happens after Packer games....just...please...leave me alone for a bit. I'm not crying.)


Unknown said...

While both twists are far-fetched I thought Orphan's twist was fun...I was laughing but not out of spite I really enjoyed it because that was the only possible explanation for that "girl's" behavior. I do like HT but I found the twist to be a bit of a sucker punch to the wasn't as satisfying as Orphan. but I like both films though. Nice throwdown ^_^

stonerphonic said...

high tension for me Mike. yea, like 97% of all horror films, more questions than answers, but unlike the orphan, i did find the story for high tension intersting, as opposed to the predictability served up as the orphan.

plus that orphan bitch is just plain ugly... MORE than something wrong with her... eeewww