After the remarks I made about the likes of ‘Hostel’ in last night’s entry, perhaps a tip of the chapeau is in order to a film that is unapologetically of that ilk … and that works brutally, brilliantly and memorably.
To whit, ‘Switchblade Romance’.
I can only assume that director and co-writer Alexandre Aja set himself the task of bringing to the screen the most extreme, graphically violent, unnecessarily gratuitous, utterly amoral exploitation movie he could possibly envisage. If so, the result is an unqualified success.
Take the home invasion scenario familiar to viewers of everything from ‘Extremities’ to ‘Straw Dogs’; add a dash of vengeful heroine turning the tables (‘I Spit on Your Grave’, ‘Halloween H20’); introduce a homicidal, motiveless truck driver (‘Duel’, ‘Jeepers Creepers’); finish with a facially-scarred monstrosity intent on using a power tool in a most unorthodox manner (‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’). Make no mistake, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a hugely derivative film. It also boasts at least four sequences which rank amongst the most unbearably tense set-pieces in the horror genre.
What frustrates and delights in equal measure is how schizophrenic a viewing experience it is. For every moment that leaves you digging your fingernails into the nearest available surface (be it the seat rest or your partner’s arm), there's another that’s so contrived and unrelenting in its bloodletting that it makes the House of Blue Leaves centrepiece from ‘Kill Bill’ look like cinema-verite. For every genuinely original touch, there’s a cliche so shamelessly evoked that it virtually has a trademark symbol next to it.
The finale, in particular (as brilliant a spoof of ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ as it is) threatens to elicit sniggers when it should make you gasp. The much-vaunted twist ending is self-evident from the outset (three clues: the title, the pre-credits ‘dream’ sequence, the empty swing outside the farmhouse).
So what does ‘Switchblade Romance’ have to recommend it? Plenty, actually: energy, immediacy, iconography, a knowing sense of irony, and a full-tilt commitment to narrative. Whereas ‘Hostel’ sent me out of the cinema feeling slightly soiled, ‘Switchblade Romance’ fucked with my head, kneed me in the solar plexus and gave me a damn good kicking as I crawled for the exit.