Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer(s): Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur
Box Office: $6.8m
Release Date: 18 June, 2003
IMDb Rating: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
UK Blu Ray release? Yes
Cecile De France – Marie
Maiwenn – Alexia
Philippe Nahon – Le tueur
Franck Khalfoun – Jimmy
Andrei Finti – Pere Alex
Oana Pellea – Mere Alex
Plot According to IMDb
Best friends Marie and Alexia decide to spend a quiet weekend at Alexia’s parents’ secluded farmhouse. But on the night of their arrival, the girls’ idyllic getaway turns into an endless night of horror.
New French Extremity, the phrase coined to describe the early noughties wave of body horror films that would even make Cronenberg wince, was originally intended to be a derogatory term to denounce the films in the same light as torture porn. Despite its intention, instead the phrase has taken on a meaning more like La Nouvelle Vague, used to reference notable filmmakers that have gone on to make an indelible mark on the genre in France and the US.
One of those filmmakers is Alexandre Aja. Then just 25 years old, Aja and lifelong friend Gregory Levasseur brought us Haute Tension (High Tension or Switchblade Romance as it is known in the UK), a psychological-horror-thriller-love-story that exemplified the nature of New French Extremity with extreme gore and violence, whilst maintaining a heart that runs through the core of the film, fueling its events.
Marie and her friend Alexia decide to spend a weekend in the country at Alexia’s parents farmhouse. Unbeknownst to them, a fucked up delivery driver with a sadistic eye for killing has decided to pay the farm a little visit…
One of the most intense attributes this film has is its twist ending. Unlike other films that try to place red herrings to throw the scent off or make their clues blindingly obvious, the first time you watch Switchblade Romance you genuinely don’t realise you’ve been fooled until it’s too late. Watching for a second time, you start to pick up on the subtle clues that are there from the start. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Sixth Sense here; the secret is safe, but it has to be acknowledged for its brilliance.
The introduction to the girls hints at a deeper connection, and it soon becomes clear that Marie is in love with Alexia – the way they talk about relationships, the voyeuristic way she watches Marie in the shower, the way she masturbates to ‘Just Another Girl’. It’s not known whether the love is requited, but what is obvious is that Alexia is blissfully unaware. It creates a tension but also gives Marie a reason to survive, and to save Alexia.
The introduction to the driver, meanwhile, is classic New French Extremity – visual, brutal, graphic, depraved. It establishes the tone that will see us wince and squint for the rest of the film. There’s no ‘less is more’ here; it achieves an odd balance of tension, heart and gore. After the initial introductions and after the driver sends their world brutally spiraling out of control, a good chunk of the film is just pure suspense. The farmhouse scene, the gas station, the pursuit along the road – Aja carefully balances the physical horror with the mental, ensuring that when we do see it, it’s brutal, but when we’re away from it the film remains just as tense.
The pace builds nicely to a gripping finale with a twist that you don’t see coming, gifting a huge payoff to a well crafted film. A known nostalgic throwback to the grindhouse and exploitation films of the 70’s, there’s an homage to Maniac and a nice nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end, but Switchblade Romance easily establishes itself in the annals of horror history with a gritty, gory film with a big heart – that just happens to get ripped out.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (★ out of 5)
- According to director Alexandre Aja, four different locations were used for Alexia’s house, but the set dressing and editing make it appear as one location
- The scene where Marie hides from the killer in the gas station restroom is an homage to a similar scene in Maniac
- The film had some issues with plagiarism over similarities with the novel Intensity by Dean Koontz
MARIE: I won’t let anyone else come between us anymore.
Tomorrow: Night #19 – Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)