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Marie and Alexia are classmates and best friends. Hoping to prepare for their college exams in peace and quiet, they decide to spend a weekend in the country at Alexia's parents' secluded farmhouse. But in the dead of night, a stranger knocks on the front door. And with the first swing of his knife, the girls' idyllic weekend turns into an endless night of horror.
For more about Switchblade Romance and the Switchblade Romance Blu-ray release, see Switchblade Romance Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on August 6, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco
Director: Alexandre Aja
» See full cast & crew
Switchblade Romance Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, August 6, 2009
Gallic director Alexandre Aja's brutal "Haute Tension" (2003) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Optimum Home Entertainment. Most unfortunately, the disc does not contain any supplemental features. With optional French subtitles. Region-B "locked".
In 2005, Lionsgate Films released Gallic director Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension a.k.a Switchblade Romance in the United States. A close friend of mine, who happens to be a hardcore horror fan, told me that there is a good reason to go see it. He did not know that I had already attended an advanced theatrical screening of the film and written about it. So, I decided to play a small game with him – I asked what the reason was. His answer caught me off guard. My friend said: Roger Ebert hated it!
I can see why some people would have a difficult time liking a film like Switchblade Romance. It is brutally violent and at times shockingly graphic. I believe that many in North America also saw a dubbed version of the film, so perhaps this is another reason why some were turned off by it.
I am not an avid horror fan but I have been following closely how the genre has been evolving. I have seen plenty of festival favorites – Fabrice Du Welz's Calvaire, Alexandre Bustillo's A l'interieur, C. Martin Ferrera's Zulo, and Pascal Laugier's Martyrs - and I can tell that film directors, and European directors in particular, are looking for new ways to shock those who like their cinema with an extra dose of red paint. As most horror fans know, during the last couple of years French directors have made some very strong films and are currently a few steps ahead of everyone else.
Director Aja's Switchblade Romance is one of those strong French films. It may not be as good as Martyrs, but it is far more impressive than, say, all of the Saw films that came out in the United States. It is well photographed and, yes Mr. Ebert, very well acted.
It is true that there are a number of plot holes in Switchblade Romance. Most of them pertain to key events from the film, which I cannot address without spoiling it for you. I can, however, say the following – I don't look for logic in most horror films. Just like I don't look for logic in the Harry Potter films. I want to see them because they defy logic.
Here's the story of Switchblade Romance: College students Alexia (Maiwenn Le Besco, Pardonnez-moi) and Marie (Cecile De France, L'auberge espagnole) head to the French countryside to visit Alexia's parents. They have bought an old farmhouse and rebuilt it. Along the way, the girls talk about men and relationships. Alexia notes that it is time for Marie to start looking for a partner.
The girls are greeted by Alexia's parents. They chat and then go to bed. In the middle of the night, someone rings the doorbell. Alexia's father (Andrei Finti) opens up. Shortly after, he loses his head. Alexia's mother (Oana Pellea) and younger brother, Tommy, are also killed. Marie manages to hide away from the killer (Philippe Nahon, MR 73, but Alexia is captured, tied up and thrown in a large truck. Before the killer leaves with her, Marie manages to get on the truck. The rest of the film is an impressive cat-and-mouse chase game where Marie attempts to outsmart the killer and save Alexia.
Switchblade Romance will not impress you with an utterly original story. Those of you paying close attention to detail will likely figure out its mystery long before the end credits roll. However, I believe that many of you, especially the horror fans, will be impressed with its classic campy look.
The acting is very good. The lovely Cecile De France plays the feisty heroine Marie to perfection. Maiwenn Le Besco, popular French actress Islid Le Besco's sister, is also very convincing. Veteran French actor Philippe Nahon does not disappoint either.
The film's dirty look is most appropriate. Similarly, a terrific soundtrack by François Eudes as well as top tunes by Didier Barbelivien and Felix Gray, and especially Muse, add to the atmospheric horror.
Switchblade Romance Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.33:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Alexandre Aja's Switchblade Romance arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment.
Unlike what some reviewers have claimed recently, this Blu-ray transfer is far from being disappointing. On the contrary, it very much replicates the theatrical look of Switchblade Romance.
As intended by director Aja, contrast and clarity are fairly inconsistent. The night scenes, especially during the first half of the film, lack the type of detail some believe this transfer ought to have. Aside from the close-ups, the rest of the footage looks rather soft and dirty. Once again, this is how the film looked when it was screened theatrically. The color-scheme is even wilder. In the very beginning of the film, where Cecile De France and Maiwenn Le Besco are seen heading to the French countryside, the colors are lush, sharp and well saturated (take a look at the orange skies). Later into the film, however, the blues, greens, browns, and blacks become soft.
This being said, the Blu-ray transfer does reveal some edge-enhancement issues. Because of the unique look of the film, some are difficult to spot, but there are a couple of scenes where it is fairly obvious. There is also a mild dose of digital noise that I spotted. I don't believe that most of you will be bothered by it, but viewers with larger than 100' screens will undoubtedly notice its presence. For the record, I did not detect any disturbing scratches, debris, marks, or stains to report on this review.
Finally, I would like to make it very clear that Optimum Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Switchblade Romance offers a solid upgrade over the R2 French Europa Corp. DVD release that I have in my library. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" disc. Therefore, unless you have a native Region-B or Region-Free player, you won't be able to access its content).
Switchblade Romance Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French LPCM 2.0. I opted for the French DTS-HD Mater Audio 5.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the French LPCM 2.0 track for the purpose of this review.
I like what I heard. Switchblade Romance is complimented by a notably atmospheric soundtrack, which the French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track treats rather well. The bass is strong, the rear channels not overly active, and the high frequencies not boosted. There are some interesting surround effects that are far more prominent on the French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track than they are on the French DTS 5.1 track the R2 DVD release has. As expected, the dynamic levels are also stronger. The dialog is crisp, clear and easy to follow. There are no disturbing pops, cracks, hissings, or dropouts that I detected.
The French LPCM 2.0 track does not reveal any technical deficiencies. The dialog is just as easy to follow on it as it is on the French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Dynamically, however, the French LPCM 2.0 track is not as impressive. The type of atmosphere the French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sustains is impossible to experience with the French LPCM 2.0 track (François Eudes' score in particular). There are no disturbing pops cracks, hissings, or dropouts that I detected.
For the record, Optimum Home Entertainment have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. I must note that they are rather large for my taste. When turned on, the subtitles occupy a portion of the image frame and the black bar below it.
Switchblade Romance Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Most unfortunately, there are absolutely no supplemental features to be found on this Blu-ray disc.
Switchblade Romance Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Six years after it appeared in French cinemas, Switchblade Romance has clearly become a cult classic. I doubt there are too many horror fans out there who have not yet seen it. I personally was not as impressed with Switchblade Romance as I was with Pascal Laugier's brilliant Martyrs, but I admit that the film has a style of its own. And, yes, the fact that the lovely Cecile De France is in it makes it very easy to recommend. If you are capable of playing Region-B discs, go for it!
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