Switchblade Romance [High Tension / Haute Tension]
by Del Harvey
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Two college girls heading to one girl’s farmland home during semester break. They’re riding along talking and debating as young adults will do, about almost nothing at all. They tease and taunt each other about directions, about their driving, and tear down the road singing along with the radio. It’s a sunny day and you can hear the crickets singing in the fields as they drive past on this beautiful day. They turn down a road and one teases the other that she saw something in the bushes. The other gets out to look and her friend drives off a few yards before stopping, laughing loud enough to hear over the radio. They’re just teasing—it’s nothing at all. They continue on.
Pan up and across the fields to an old work truck parked on a dirt road. Overhead angle on a woman’s head bobbing up and down in a filthy workman’s lap. Pan along the side of the truck and spin around and look back along the side of the truck, in silhouette now against the lowering sun. Sounds of their finishing the deed, then indistinguishable sounds, and the man quickly extends his arm out the truck window and tosses the woman’s head into the road as he cranks up the truck and drives off. As his truck rolls off down the road the camera rises up and we see the eyes still blinking on the bodyless head lying in the road.
Thus begins Switchblade Romance, originally titled Haute Tension in France, and titled High Tension in the U.S. To say that this is not a film for the squeamish would be an understatement. From this beginning the film builds in intensity with each subsequent scene. This intensity which, at times, had me squirming in my seat, forces a direct comparison to the distributed to television film of the same name from the book by bestselling American author Dean Koontz. Both films share that silent assailant factor, coupled with a raw fear and anxiety for survival, and combined with a collection of scenes in which there are long silences and almost unbearable intensity. It’s easy to see why these two would be so readily compared and contrasted. The biggest difference in the two is, of course, the bloodshed. Switchblade Romance is a gorefest of slasher madness, a worrisome dream of violence and relentless attacks upon these two women by an older, out-of-shape male of the yellow-toothed, greasy-haired variety. They type that’s good with a straight razor and an icepick. In this film, from director Alexandre Aja, the son of director Alexandre Arcady and currently co-writing a remake of The Hills Have Eyes, the high tension is typically awarded by some horribly grisly dead from which there is no escape.
But we continue to hope and pray that these young ladies will escape, and that is why we watch. What makes this film unique and what made it even more interesting for me, as well as a number of audiences at Cannes, is the psychological twist involving the killer. Not necessarily unique, it is rare to find such a creative device in a slasher film. And it makes Switchblade Romance/High Tension a film very much worthy of your time. This is one of the most riveting and disturbing slasher/horror films I’ve seen in quite some time. I recommend it highly.
Del Harvey is a writer and screenwriting teacher living in Chicago.
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