Switchblade Romance (2003)
By: M. Walsh on August 11, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Optimum Releasing Ltd (UK). All Regions, PAL. 2:35:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 5.1, French 2.0. English Subtitles. 88 minutes
The Movie
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Music: Francois Eudes
Tagline:Hearts will bleed.
Country: France
AKA: Haute Tension, High Tension
A young woman sits alone on a hospital bed. Through a gap in her gown we can see her naked back. It is riddled with bruises, cuts and scars. Were theses injuries sustained in some horrific accident? Some frenzied attack? The young woman fidgets incessantly, all the while repeating the phrase: "I'll never let anyone come between us anymore…"

For who is this declaration intended? With an abrupt change in tone the young woman addresses a video camera that has so far been hidden from view. "Is it recording?" And with these words, Alexandre Aja's astonishing sophomore effort is underway.

Marie (Cecile De France, the young woman from the film's opening sequence) and Alex (Maiwenn Le Besco) drive through the French countryside toward Alex's parent's farm. The two students are obviously close friends, yet there is a latent animosity between them which becomes evident when the conversation turns to Alex's recent tryst with an unnamed man. Their discourse rapidly deteriorates into juvenile name-calling, after which all is forgiven and the two friends continue on their way, the sun setting in the distance.
The optimism of the previous scene rapidly dissipates as we are given our first glimpse at the film's antagonist. Hunched in the driver's seat of a decrepit truck, his face concealed by a filthy blue cap, a sweaty, overweight man in dirty overalls fellates himself with a girl's severed head.

Sunshine has given way to night when the girl's finally arrive at the farm. They are greeted by Alex's parents, along with her little brother. Marie is shown to her room after which Alex, exhausted from the drive, bids her goodnight. Marie braves the cold and ventures outside to smoke a cigarette. She spies Alex through an upstairs window. Her companion is washing herself in the shower. Marie watches for some time before heading indoors, up the long flight of stairs that lead to her room and then, eventually, to bed.

When a knock at the front door rouses Alex's father from his sleep, Switchblade Romance ignites with a calculated brutality that is as refreshing as it is unsettling. Philippe Nahon's portrayal of the truck-driving killer is palpably menacing, and there is something…iconographic…about his hushed, minimalist performance. The cinematography, by Maxime Alexandre, is superb. Francois Eudes' score, a mixture of experimental electronic drones and amplified real sounds, is one of the most creative and effective soundscapes to grace a horror film in many, many years. And the special make-up effects, by the infamous Giannetto De Rossi, are spectacular. Make no mistake, this is the real thing: A dark, beautiful post-modern fairy tale and a stunning example of genre filmmaking.

And just for the record, I loved the ending.
This is an above average transfer by Optimum. Detail levels are high, the blacks are black and, while there is a degree of grain present, it is not extreme in the least and actually enhances the viewing experience. Certain scenes exhibit some minor aliasing, and there a few unwelcome instances where edge-enhancement is present, but these are all few and far between. However, in preparation for future foreign language releases, Optimum should really take heed of the following mantra: Forced subtitles, bad. Removable subtitles, good.
The French language (thank Christ) sound mixes here are very impressive indeed. The 5.1 option just beats out the stereo mix, due to the increased sense of spatiality which adds a great deal to the striking sound design. Both tracks are excellent though, so take your pick.
Extra Features
The UK exclusive commentary, moderated by Total Film features editor Jamie Graham, is insightful and entertaining. Aja discusses the changes made to the film's title (he prefers the one used for the UK release) and star Cecile De France discusses her love affair with the film's yellow car. There is a 25 minute 'making-of' featurette that contains some nice interview footage of director Aja and the film's co-writer, Gregory Levasseur. Rounding off the disc are a selection of cast interviews (with Philippe Nahon's being the most entertaining) and the usual assortment of previews and trailers. Oh, and a short interview with special effects maestro Giannetto De Rossi, tarantulas not included.
The Verdict
More than just an homage to the set-pieces that pervade our collective horror sub-conscious, Switchblade Romance is a very real examination of emotional culpability. It isn't often that such an intense thematic concept is explored under the guise of grindhouse exploitation, albeit one that channels the visual assurance of some of France's most applauded cinematic luminaries, yet it is done here with conviction and sincerity and astonishing force.

This is not a mere imitation of the genre's past masters. This is not production-line exploitation sexed up with some pseudo-psychological sub-text to give it artistic relevance. This is vital, breathtaking cinema and it is one of the very best films of the year.
Movie Score
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