REVIEW: DVD Release: Switchblade Romance

Film: Switchblade Romance
Release date: 31st January 2005
Certificate: 18
Running time: 83 mins
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Phillippe Nahon
Genre: Horror
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: France

Having already gained industry recognition as a short filmmaker, Alexandre Aja’s stock was truly raised with this acclaimed horror flick – which brought him fans including Wes Cravan, and a Hollywood career.

Two friends, Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco), escape to the country to spend time with the latter’s family in their homely farmhouse. Horror ensues when a lumbering, rancid man with a switchblade (Phillippe Nahon) forces his way into the house and begins to slaughter Alex’s family members.

Following the rampage, Alex is kidnapped and Marie sets out to rescue her friend, enduring a horrific journey along the way…

For 75 minutes, Switchblade Romance is solid horror fare; with a static-laden soundtrack, a faceless maniac - every bit as seedy and agricultural as Leatherface - and an eye for brutality that never flinches. You can tell that Aja is no stranger to the visceral horror films which invaded cinemas and households in the ‘70s and ‘80s, raising the pulses of those that dared to watch - not to mention those of critics eager to lambast the movies for their crude, and “dangerous” voyeuristic approach to violence. And voyeuristic Aja’s film is.

Following the initial invasion, Switchblade Romance is happy to put the audience in Marie’s shoes while she witnesses the pain dealt out with such unerring physicality by the unnamed brute. She is unable to do anything to help, instead opting for self-preservation as she avoids detection within the shadows of the compellingly atmospheric farmhouse.

It is at this point that the film - direct and distinct - is at its best. With Marie trying futilely to arrange help for Alex and her family – all being tortured and mutilated by the nameless killer – the tension reaches pitches of palpability. This is aided in no small part by a raw showing from de France, who drudges out of herself an impressively involved performance as Marie - her terror gradually evolves into vengeful lament as the killer kidnaps Alex (for whom it is earlier implied Marie harbours a strong romantic interest) and drives off.

The hunted becomes the hunter, as Marie throws herself into the task of redeeming her friend, and escaping the madman whose sordid past (more track record than history) is chillingly alluded to by the dirty little keepsakes and habitual indiscretions in which he indulges. And while this exposition is craftily implemented to give enough to incubate in the audience a deeper fear of the murderer, it never goes so far as to assign to the man’s personality anything other than a desire to harm throughout the majority of the film.

This is not to Switchblade Romance’s detriment. Plenty of good horror films neglect to detail any sort of rationale in their antagonists, and there is something to be said for that anonymity contributing to the killer’s fear factor.

What is detrimental to Switchblade Romance, however, is the fact that rather than settling for this simplicity, Aja resolves to blindside his audience - subverting expectations with a revelation that could be considered of decidedly bad taste should one start considering certain subtextual implications.

More than the clumsy – but likely innocuous - immorality of the big ‘reveal’ is the fact that what Aja attempts to use as a twist virtually disqualifies from credibility all that has come before it, calling into question these events ever could have realistically happened at all.

It is not inconceivable that the film’s half-baked conclusion could be borne from a blind ambition in the young director. A desire to top-off the sustained horror so proficient and effective throughout Switchblade Romance with a profound final fifteen minutes to leave the audiences conscious of the fact that they have seen something that transcends the predictability of other slasher/horror films.

However, what Aja seems unable to grasp is the fact that, in order for his shock-twist to function as an effective revelation, it should address something that, until that point, had perhaps not sat right in the film. It should act as a “Eureka!” moment, and provide for the audience an explanation or justification for any curiosities that the film had roused about either the characters or the story as a whole. A good twist fills holes in the audience’s understanding of a film. It is unfortunate, then, that Switchblade Romance’s seems only to create them.

Switchblade Romance, for the majority of its running time, is a horror film with a merciless edge. Unfortunate, then, that the director’s over-ambition disturbs the equilibrium. DWS

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