Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension)

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"I'll never let anyone come between us any more "

Oct 17th, 2009

One day when buying a can of coke from my local newsagents I saw a French guy leaning up against a wall smokeing a cigarette. Taking a long puff he looked at me and said "You should not drink that, it is not good for you" (hands up who imagined the accent). This basically sums up every experience I've had with the French nation (thus far, lets make that clear) who always seem to be telling me what is good for me without concern for their own actions, I didn't care for it.

When I rented Switchblade Romance I had no idea it was a French language film, as it played out I realized perhaps I had been wrong about the French, they DID know what was good for me and this was horror at its finest.

Two friends Marie and Alex travel into the French countryside to visit Alex's parents. Marie, clearly in love with Alex (hence the English title Switchblade Romance) keeps her feelings to herself while staying in the remote farmhouse. While there, the house is attacked by a homicidal maniac and Alex is kidnapped. What follows is Marie's attempt to stop this madman and free her friend from his clutches.

Wow, this was intense. I remember the first horror films I watched when I was a child, I would get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach and my heart would pound. Very much the same when riding theme park rides, the anticipation was great. Over time this feeling began to dull and I began to appreciate horror for other reasons but always wished that one day I may find that experience again. As this film began to play I felt like a kid again, I shat my pants.

Alexandre Aja is an amazing director and does not shy away from controversy and violence. Every scene of terror is put in full view of the camera; he seems to take a page out of Clive Barker's book in that things are more terrifying when in full view rather than hidden in the shadows. Something which is hard to argue with as Hellraiser is just as terrifying.

This film is light on plot but it's meant to be, this is an experience in fear much like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre which this resembles at certain points. After the main players are established a sequence plays out that I'm not going to detail here (it really needs to be seen fresh) – it left my jaw on the floor! I hadn't up to this point realized how stale horror had become as a genre.

Resting the film on the shoulders of Cécile de France (Marie) would have failed if she wasn't such a great actress. She presents a likable character who you want to survive the ordeal. The terror on her face feels real, leaving me wondering how could anyone cope in the same situation. Philippe Nahon plays the other side of the coin and his murderous madman carries out acts of menace so casually I actually felt uneasy (which let me tell you is no easy feat with me).

The music is expertly crafted and the bizarre base inducing sounds unsettle the viewer. By taking a different approach, sound cues come out of nowhere not just for jump affects but to startle the viewer, making events seem just that more unpredictable. The song choices here cover world music and one of my favorite tracks of all time Muses' New Born.

In advance I will say that this does carry a twist ending which many have criticized. I will agree it is one of the laziest uses of a twist in film but it is done so well I can forgive it here. In context it leads into a riveting climax that I wouldn't change for anything.

I think everyone who loves horror should watch this film. Many may be put off by the French language and subtitles (my friends won't watch it because of this) but the film focuses more on visuals and dialogue is sparse. I love this film. 9/10

Best Kill
Head through the staircase

Released as High Tension in America – doesn't that make more logical sense?
Cécile De France trained with a Thai boxer to get in shape for her physically demanding role.
Though the film is set in southern France the film had to be shot in Romania for budgetary matters.

Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Released: 2003(France) 2004 (UK) 2005 (USA)
Starring: Cécile de France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon

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