A proudly violent, women-in-peril slasher pic, "Switchblade Romance" represents a lateral move for 24-year-old French helmer Alexandre Aja after his hauntingly sinister debut "Furia." "Switchblade" deftly juggles gore and suspense, and punchline holds an intellectual frisson or two for fans of gender-role speculation. Blood-soaked widescreen romp got the relatively rare "16-and-over" rating in Gaul when it launched June 18.

A proudly violent, women-in-peril slasher pic, “Switchblade Romance” represents a lateral move for 24-year-old French helmer Alexandre Aja after his hauntingly sinister debut “Furia.” “Switchblade” deftly juggles gore and suspense, and punchline holds an intellectual frisson or two for fans of gender-role speculation, but basically this is one more horror pic on the distinguished road already trodden by “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Maniac” and the like. Blood-soaked widescreen romp got the relatively rare “16-and-over” rating in Gaul when it launched June 18. Horror-fest and latenight programmers, plus ancillary scouts, should check this one out.

In order to study for their exams in peace, fetching college students Alex (Maiwenn) and Marie (Cecile de France) drive to an isolated farmhouse where Alex’s mom, dad and baby brother Tommy live. Their conversation reveals Alex is enjoying a fling with a married man, but Marie is too picky to sleep around.

While the girls settle in at the farm, the audience is introduced to a stocky middle-aged man receiving oral sex in his beat-up truck. When he tosses a young woman’s severed head out the window soon afterwards and drives off chuckling, it’s clear no one in their right mind should answer the door if this guy were to ring the bell.

Alas, Alex’s dad does just that in the middle of the night. As a result, he’s soon minus his head, which the intruder shears off with a piece of furniture. When mom and little Tommy have been dispatched, the Killer (Philippe Nahon) tosses a brutalized, gagged and chained Alex into his truck and hits the road.

Unknown to him, Marie has managed to climb aboard. Straight razor, hatchet and chainsaw subsequently connect with flesh as Marie attempts to rescue her immobilized friend from the psycho.

The versatile De France, who picked up a Cesar award for her turn as the lesbian housemate in “L’auberge espagnole” (“Europudding”/”The Spanish Apartment”) makes a tough, resourceful heroine, but Ripley in “Alien” she ain’t. For the record, mono-monikered thesp Maiwenn is the elder sister of actress Isolde Le Besco.

Unnerving sound design ups the creepiness ante. Lensed in Romania, pic has a sinister, hemoglobin look that fits the story like a glove.

Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension)

France

Production

A EuropaCorp release and presentation of a EuropaCorp/Alexandre Films production. (International sales: EuropaCorp, Paris.) Produced by Alexandre Arcady, Robert Benmussa. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay, Aja, Gregory Levasseur.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Maxime Alexandre; editor, Baxter; music, Francois Eudes; production designer, Gregory Levasseur; sound (Dolby), Pierre Andre, Didier Lozahic, Emmanuel Augeard; assistant director, Theodor Halacu Nicon. Reviewed at UGC Orient Express, Paris, June 30, 2003. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Cecile de France, Maiwenn, Philippe Nahon, Frank Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea, Marco Claudiu Pascu, Jean-Claude De Goros.
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