Cecile De France
Maiwenn Le Besco
Marco Claudio Pascu
Jean-Claude de Goros
French Slasher with Twist
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Switchblade Romance (2003)
3rd Feb 05
Two friends, Alex and Marie, drive to Alex’s parent’s house in the French countryside. On the night of their arrival a man breaks into the house, killing Alex’s family horribly, and now Marie must help Alex (and herself) survive by any means necessary. All is not as it seems.
Review Switchblade Romance doesn’t mess around. The characters and situation are set up quickly and economically as we see a part of their car journey to Alex’s parents and their arrival at the house, at night. Everyone goes to bed and the lights are turned off. Marie plays with herself, not long after catching a glimpse of Alex naked in the shower. The door knocks and, as Alex’s father opens the door, he is brutally murdered by a stocky man in overalls and a baseball cap. From this point (22 minutes to be precise), Switchblade Romance becomes a slice of pure, edge-of-your-seat, gore-soaked tension as Marie and Alex try to escape this merciless, ruthless and mysterious killer. This is a tale of survival.
Technically, Aja and his crew are real professionals because this film looks amazing from the outset. A series of engaging close-ups contrast with gorgeous wide landscapes and sunsets leads us into the very real and very scary turmoil that follows. There’s an acute sense of reality that pervades this film, not least from the situation, quality of acting, and assured photography. The killings are totally brutal, excessively violent (arguably), but this works so much better than most films of this ilk you’ll see because the carnage is so damn real. Take, for example, a scene where someone gets an axe in the chest: the killer can’t get the axe out of the victim’s chest again – its too deeply buried, so he pulls on it for ages, crunching the flesh and bones of his victim as he does so, demonstrating that axing someone in the chest is a far cry from being a simple, tidy affair. If the killing is realistic, then credit must go to the legend that is Gianatto De Rossi, the special make-up effects wizard who worked on the film. De Rossi has worked with some of the best directors in the world (Fellini, Lynch, Bertolucci), as well as some of the lesser (Lucio Fulci on Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond). Now a seasoned pro after 40 years in the special make up effects business, his work is more impressive then ever. This violence is really hard to stomach at times but serves to shape the finished product into an unforgettably visceral viewing experience.
This stalk ‘n’ slash symphony also has a very strong soundtrack. Any popular music on the soundtrack is generally kept to a satisfying minimum, and the Muse song they used seemed to work pretty well. I generally don’t get along well with horror soundtracks consisting of a bunch of popular songs. It comes off as lazy and, worse than that, totally inappropriate. That said, SR keeps such tracks to a minimum and instead opts for an effectively creepy, tense and ominous score. That is, in part, where SR shows its influences, as Aja gives a tip of his French hat to John Carpenter’s Halloween score, where various electronic percussion is layered and builds tracks upon tracks, as the tension mounts incessantly towards the gruelling, hectic, head f**k of a finale. Not only the music, but the use of sound is specifically designed and planned to let us hear only what he wants to let us hear, be it the creaking leather of the killer’s shoes, heavy breathing, or the slice of the knife. Sound design at its best.
Another influence on SR is seen during the finale, when the killer is running through the woods with a chainsaw. Give that man a dead skin mask and make him squeal like a pig why dontcha! It’s pure Texas Chainsaw Massacre - a fitting homage that most will spot easily. The scary thing is that the sight of the Phillipe Nahon killer (who by the time of the finale is a pure monster), wielding a buzzsaw is almost as harrowing a sight as one leatherfaced Gunnar Hanson 30 years ago. Perhaps a less fitting reference is to Jeepers Creepers, in that the van the killer drives is almost identical to the nondescript, mysterious vehicle in that film. I would like to think that any likeness to Jeepers Creepers is purely coincidental. Because it’s rubbish, we all know that folks…
Now for the short fallings. While the twist ending in SR may take you by surprise, it might not make a lot of sense. The moment we realise what this twist means, we, as the audience, are desperately backtracking on the events of the past 80 minutes, trying to make sense out of it all, thus missing some of what’s happening onscreen. To start dissecting the film in the context of the twist would double the length of this review, so here it is, as concise as possible: The twist doesn’t make complete sense, but there’s a plot disclaimer at the beginning, which makes most of what happens onscreen possible. The filmmakers perhaps felt that it was not enough to give the horror public a gory, white-knuckled Frightfest without the annoyingly ‘hip’ contemporary tendency to twist the story around at the end. Played out straight, the film would have probably been more effective (and more easy to digest) if they had just tied the whole thing up, neat and tidy, with no bullshit. It’s the kind of film you really have to watch a second time to figure out whether the narrative logic stands up. Should you need to watch a film twice for this reason? You decide. I know I could think of many less pleasant ways to spend an evening.
This is sure to give the genre community what they want. A modern Slasher film with real suspense and a few tricks up its sleeve. It doesn’t give in to cliché half as many times as it could, and definitely brings something new to the table in terms of genre convention.
I’m glad I watched this film at night. I hope you do the same. See it, and you’ll see the almost perfect modern horror film.
Optimum Releasing have done a fine job on the DVD. A gorgeous widescreen print is accompanied by director’s commentary and a load of tasty extras / interviews. Get stuck in.
Versions This is also known as Haute Tension in its native France.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.