Switchblade Romance (2003)

Before he directed a very competent remake of The Hills Have Eyes and scripted the claustrophobic chiller P2, Alexandre Aja served up this little slice of 70’s slasher throwback heaven. The story follows two female college students; Alex and Marie, who are spending some quality study-time at Alex’s parents remote farmhouse in France. No sooner have they arrived than an ominous figure appears at the door wielding a straight razor that he’s not afraid to use.

The gratuitous (albeit brief) female nudity, the frequent use of inspired makeshift weapons and the buckets of gore make it obvious that Aja intended this to be an homage to the films he grew up watching. It’s also clear that he has a deep love for and understanding of the genre, taking much inspiration from the greats. Who better to direct a decent slasher movie than a hardcore slasher movie fan? He clearly knows what works as well as what doesn’t and with one obvious exception, he veers away from unnecessary clichés. If you already know what that is then I’m sure you’ll agree, if you don’t, then far be it from me to reveal the twist.

I can’t think of another recent horror movie that has made me wince as often as I did during Haute Tension (the original French title of Switchblade Romance). From the barbed wire-wrapped chunk of wood to the face of one character to a shard of glass wedged in the Achilles heel of another, it had me shifting in my seat with alarming regularity. I always thought I’d become immune to on-screen violence but this proved otherwise. Some of it is truly brutal and has a gritty, grimy feel to it, mercifully far away from the Hollywood sheen of most modern slasher movies.

The acting is convincing throughout with Cecile de France, in particular, excelling in her role as Marie; at times timid and terrified but with the potential to become animalistic when called for. Feel free to call me a philistine but I think another plus point is that the dialogue was kept to a minimum. Instead of having to keep one eye on subtitles to keep up with the story, I was able to keep both eyes on the action.

For the first 80 minutes of the film I was glued to the screen, with only the latter 10 minutes or so putting a slight kink in my enjoyment by opening up multiple plot holes. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat disappointing conclusion, this is still one of the best straight-up slasher flicks of the past decade.

More films should follow the lead and use the old-fashioned horror movie technique of all-out, balls-to-the-wall, hide-behind-your-cushion terror; unrelenting, nerve-shredding, frenetic scenes depicting the stuff of nightmares, in place of the more tame, watered-down blood and guts we so often get shoved down our throats by the plethora of identikit studio horrors. In short, I loved it and having seen what he can do with a relatively small budget and a solid idea, am thoroughly looking forward to Aja’s future directorial projects.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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