3 May 2011

Fin's Review: Switchblade Romance

I cannot remember any film that has left me not only as frustrated but as angry as Switchblade Romance. I have never seen a film implode in such a catastrophic way as this. I have never seen such an excellent film be so thoroughly torn apart and ruined by so stupid and unnecessary an ending and after the anger died away I just felt regret for what could have been for Alexandre Aja and this film.

This is the most difficult film that I have had to review for the blog, mainly due to the unique circumstances of this film. If I had one piece of advice for anybody that is about to watch this film, it is to turn it off around the 65 minute mark. If you do this, you will have watched what I think is one of the most exciting slasher films for years. However, if you ignore this advice and watch the whole film, you will find its excellence totally overshadowed and ultimately worthless next to the sheer crappiness of the ending, which ruins everything that goes before it. This is where the difficulty in reviewing this film comes in: how do you review a film that is really excellent for 95% of its running time and laughably bad for the remaining 5%? Ultimately, you have to view the film as a whole and due to the ending the whole project is a failure, but perhaps like no other film I have seen. I was left dreaming about what might have been if Aja had not totally lacked the courage of his convictions in keeping this film simple in the best traditions of the slasher genre.

When Clarky brought this film to the table on Thursday I have to say I was not enthusiastic; after watching Inside the previous week, another gore-drenched uber-violent French film was not what I was after. However, only a few minutes into this film it became clear that, aside from shared nationality, Inside and Switchblade Romance have little in common other than the quality of film making on show.

The film opens with Marie and Alex, two college friends visiting Alex's family's country home. The backwoods of France replace the backwoods of America in this flick but old creaky houses and isolated fields created the same creepy atmosphere, regardless of which country they happen to be in. As with the nod to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in the country setting there is not much new in this film and I don't mean that as a criticism. Aja takes many of the aspects of the slasher genre we all know and love adds some nice touches of his own, combines this with top quality visuals and sound, and creates a really engaging film.

The first thing that hits you when watching this film is the quality of the filming - the French fields look amazing as Alex and Marie drive through them on the way to the house. Everything is fresh and bright and sun-dappled. This is juxtaposed to great effect with our first view of the killer's truck - it is dark and grimy and creates an atmosphere of real menace. This first view of the killer is for my money one of the creepiest introductions to a horror villain I have seen in a long time.

Coupled with the great visuals is even better sound production. Every creak and crunch is amplified to give the viewer the heightened sensory awareness that a person feels under great stress and fear. This is particularly effective when Marie is hiding under the bed during the killer's first assault. This scene is an interesting example of a technique Aja uses to great effect in this film - by focusing on the sound and placing us alongside the character under the bed, we hear the carnage but don't actually see it. This hearing but not seeing technique is really effective and is continued in the obscured view of the killer. Aja only gives us snatched views of the fiend but the little we do see is terrifying.

The killer in Switchblade Romance is perfection. He is at once both terrifying and really hideous. He is dirty and sweaty and it is not hard to imagine the smell of his vile presence. He is also perhaps more grounded in reality than many slasher villains, never becoming a caricature or a supernatural creature that the viewer can in a way laugh at and support. Instead, Aja's creation is a combination of many of the features of real life serial killers and is truly abhorrent.

After the initial assault on Alex's house where Alex is kidnapped, Marie decides to track the killer down to rescue her friend and seek justice. At this point the film flips from an excellent home invasion film to an equally strong chase movie. As a result of the killer's action in the house and the strong character portrayed by Marie, we really get behind her and when justice is finally served it is a truly satisfying viewing experience.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where this film should have ended. If it had, Aja would have created a slasher film right out of the top drawer with tension, scares, action and suspense. However, for reasons known only to him, Aja adds a twist that is maybe the most ridiculous in film history. It is a twist that adds nothing to the story and when added to what went before makes absolutely no sense. I will not describe it, partly not to 'spoil' the ending but also because it is just too depressing. There cannot be too many directors that in the space of 5 minutes destroy a really excellent piece of work the way Aja does here.

1 comment:

  1. Can't believe I forgot to mention the sound design in this film. It was stunning.

    As for the last 10 minutes, its fair to say we were all in a state of disbelief last Thursday. I still can't quite believe it!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.