Switchblade Romance (originally titled "Haute Tension") - 2003 (French with English subtitles)
IMDB genre keywords: Crime/Horror
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Screenplay by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur
Starring Cécile De France as Marie, and Maïwenn Le Besco (credited simply as "Maïwenn") as Alex

I won't let anyone come between us again... I won't let anyone come between us again...


Marie and Alex go to Alex's parents' isolated farmhouse to revise for their exams without any distractions. Then a psychopath turns up and tries to kill them. That's it. That's all it needs.

Why You Should Watch/Rent/Buy This:

You. Will. Shit. Your. Pants.

Don't be fooled by the simple plot description. The French title translates as "High Tension", and that's what you get. This is one of the most intense, brutal, unrelenting horror films I've seen for years. A lot of the tension comes from simple scenes where someone is hiding from the killer, trying to stay quiet, trying not to be seen. They are really simple sequences, but I guarantee that you will be soiling yourself in terror. Bring a plastic bag, wear a nappy, or buy two tubs of popcorn and empty one on the floor before the film starts. It's that good.

A lot of horror lately has either had comedy elements, or a sarcastic, postmodern-humour feel. Some other movies hold back, or tone down the gore to get more ticket sales. If you want a pure horror movie that doesn't joke around, doesn't hold back, doesn't let you off the hook for a second, then go and see this movie immediately. This is raw, old school, 70s-style horror. It doesn't resort to cheap BOO!-type jump shocks - when the killer is on screen, he never hides, we see him walking around in plain sight. The thing about horror is, everything has been done before. Everything. In both good and bad movies. The trick is to find new ways of presenting the same old "psycho killing people" routine - that this movie succeeds in scaring you to such an extent, even though there's not really anything that new or ground breaking about it, is quite an achievement.

I first saw it at the FrightFest (weekend horror festival) at the Prince Charles Cinema, but it's on general release now (end of September 2004) in the UK and Ireland - it should be released early in 2005 in the US. Both times I saw it, the audience was utterly silent all the way through, until the credits came up, when you could clearly hear a sigh of relief. It's gritty, raw, and will stay with you for a long, long time. The acting is top notch, the film doesn't have an ounce of spare fat on it, and the sparse music adds to the tension. Christ, even the opening credits are freaky, letting you know that this is not going to be a pleasant, feelgood experience. Mind you, one particular sequence that got cheers and applause from the audience, is one of the most satisfying moments in the movies, ever. Some people have a problem with the ending, which seems to have some errors of logic - I didn't like it myself at first, but a second viewing erased most of those doubts. Some of it still doesn't make sense, but all of it can be explained if you give it enough thought, and watching it twice is definitely helpful. Even if you hate it, it shouldn't spoil the movie for you. You'll be too freaked out to even think about it.

I've deliberately not given much away about the story or talked about any specific scenes, because the less you know going in, the better, it'll add to the tension. Even seeing it a second time though, I was on the edge of my seat. I can't recommend this movie enough. If you love horror, you'll love this. If you get scared or disturbed easily, then you probably won't have a good time. Last time I saw it, there were two walkouts as soon as the killing started (please let me know if anyone walks out when you see it, just for my own amusement).

Just go and see it. Or I'll kill you. And your family.

Most Excellent Movie Trivia:

Maïwenn Le Besco, who plays Alex, was the blue diva (Diva Plavalaguna) in The Fifth Element - directed by Luc Besson, who produced Switchblade Romance, and with whom Maïwenn has a child.

Wes Craven has been looking for someone to remake his film The Hills Have Eyes for some time. When he saw Switchblade Romance, he met up with Alexandre Aja and insisted that he write and direct the remake. It is the only remake I have ever looked forward to - I love the original, but it has dated quite badly. Hopefully they'll find a part for Michael Berryman somewhere...

The French title is "Haute Tension", which means "High Tension". Coincidentally, Philippe Nahon, who plays the psychopath, was in a movie called "Haute tension - Meurtres en douce" in 1990, playing a magician.

Gianetto De Rossi, who did the special makeup effects, also worked on lots of old Italian horror movies, like Zombie Flesh Eaters, Cannibal Apocalypse and The Beyond.

Cheers to IMDB as always for the cast names and genre keywords.

Although I must congratulate RalphyK for an excellent writeup, I couldn't really disagree with him more. I was not terribly impressed with this film, and I actually tend to like horror movies.

Wait, wait, wait. That's not all entirely accurate. This is one rare case in which I loved everything about the movie but the plot. Maybe it's because I like plot-driven films, or maybe it's just because I'm an English major. But generally it doesn't matter to me how cool the special effects are, how good the acting is, or how well a movie is shot if the plot is a disaster. And this one is.

The major problem with this film is one that occurs frequently when a writer/director aspires to raise a horror movie above the level of pure hack-and-slash gore: plot flaws. There are many in Switchblade Romance (which did call itself High Tension when I saw it), and they're big enough that any twelve year-old would catch them (please don't take this to mean that I would suggest showing this film to a twelve year-old). The most frustrating thing about the holes in this particular film are that they don't occur until the last twenty minutes or so of the movie. Aja includes a totally unnecessary Identity/Fight Club-esque twist ending that not only doesn't work, but takes the movie almost instantly from "excellent slasher film" to "crappy thriller film." The other problem is that the twist ending itself has been done in almost exactly the same way by several far superior movies, and in the moment before your brain begins rattling off reasons that the twist doesn't even make sense, you've already registered it as a ripoff.

Despite Ralphy's assertion that a second viewing will clear things up, I actually discovered more flaws the second time I watched it.

So, if it's the ride that matters most to you, and not where you're going, you may enjoy this film. The shooting is fantastic, and the acting really isn't half bad. The bad guy is really scary, and the gore is... really gory. Watch the first hour and scare your pants off. Watch the next half an hour and walk away with a bad taste in your mouth. Either way, watch it in the original French with subtitles. Dubbing in a horror movie is just silly and doesn't even make sense.

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