Switchblade Romance: relying on dangerous tropes

To celebrate Pride month, Bruna is taking an academic look into how homosexuality is portrayed in horror. In this, her second article on the subject, she explores whether any representation, is good representation? By watching Alexandre Aja’s 2003 feature Switchblade Romance, she can safely say that no, it is not.

*** This article contains spoilers! ***

Switchbalde Romance poster

Switchblade Romance (or Haute Tension, as it is known in some territories) is a slasher film that follows a madman on a killing spree in rural France.

This film does not hold back on gore and violence — after all it is a French extremist film — although the label “French extremist” was first meant to be a pejorative one, it quickly became somewhat of a seal of quality.

Surviving a French extremist film gave, somehow, a cult status to the moviegoer. Surviving Switchblade Romance is no easy task (if you are not yet numbed to it anyway, as it is the case of yours truly).

The film starts off with Marie (Cécile de France) running from someone or something in the forest. She is deeply hurt and we cannot see what is coming after her. When she wakes up she quickly gives away the ending of the movie in one sentence – she says she had a strange dream in which she was running away from herself.

To the first-time watcher this detail will pass by without being recognised, which is probably what Aja meant to do, otherwise the twist at the end would be meaningless.  Marie wakes up in a car with her friend, Alex (Maïwenn), who is driving to her parents’ house for a weekend getaway.

In this scene we are introduced to their friendship and we get an insight into both of them. Marie is depicted as masculine – short hair, baggy jeans, and just having an overall tough exterior – whereas Alex is the polar opposite. She is feminine, and through the dialogue we know that she, unlike Marie, has luck with guys.

Coinciding with the girls’ arrival at the house, we are introduced to a madman who is pleasuring himself with a severed head. We know that trouble is hovering around, but we quickly forget it when the girls meet Alex’s parents.

Marie feels right at home and, when everyone goes to sleep, she goes for a cigarette outside where she spies on Alex taking a shower. Aroused by what she has just seen, Marie goes back to her room and gives in to her desires and pleasures herself. Right after she finishes, the horror starts.

The madman – big and vile – decapitates Alex’s father, slices her mother’s throat and kills her brother with a shotgun. He doesn’t kill Alex, however, and instead takes her as a prize to “savour” her. Marie manages to hide from the madman and she tries, at all cost, to save Alex, even though her reaction to Marie’s presence is peculiar.

Up until now, Marie has been lucky, she hasn’t been in contact with the monster and has managed to sneak up into his pickup truck to try and save Alex. Marie is out heroine. She is our ‘Final Girl’. She has a boyish exterior and is strong and resilient.

However, at the end of the film, in the big twist, it is revealed that the madman is in fact a product of her own imagination and that she is the one who has committed all the atrocities.

As a film buff, I think the ending is good. It surprises us (if you’ve forgotten about the dead giveaway in the beginning) and it entertains us. Of course, it does require a suspension of disbelief, especially if you are thinking about the logistic of the killings. But, as horror fans, we are used to doing that.

Nevertheless, I believe the film treads on dangerous grounds by using the “crazy/evil lesbian trope”.

If you are a vampire fan, you might be familiar with the lesbian vampires of the 70s. They were evil creatures who seduced the innocent damsel. Upon disrupting the status quo, they were killed by the male hero and heteronormativity was restored.

The lesbian vampires didn’t hide their meaning – they were the homosexuality that threatened the family and, no matter how much pleasure they gave the virgin young woman, they needed to be killed. Mind you, the lesbian vampires were in the 70s… You’d think people would have invented something better to kill nowadays…

Switchblade Romance relies on this trope – it gives us Marie who, at first, is our lesbian hero! We root for her, we want her to succeed and kill the psychopath.

But, of course, the ‘madman’ in none other than her lesbian side, the side that she has outed (literally). The gay part is portrayed as the wrong, the deviant, the disgusting.

And following that chain of thought, the film wades in homophobia when he/she kills the family. Everything that is standing on the way of their love, everything Marie cannot give Alex, and everything that homophobes declare that homosexuality threatens – the nuclear family.

The wild-goose chase between Marie and the maniac resembles a dog going after its own tail. She is the epitome of the ‘self-loathing gay’ – she sees her lesbian self as disgusting, and as something that will destroy her. Therefore she must kill it before it kills her.

The ending is conflicting because, on one hand, our lesbian hero kills the madman, but on the other hand she is killing herself, her gay side, she is suppressing herself.

When Marie kills the maniac she lets go a roar that is almost sexual, it’s cathartic. Is she accepting herself or silencing herself? It is not clear, but the ending is not positive for her. She is put on a mental institution, which for me could convey a disturbing message of either go straight, or go crazy.   

By Bruna Foletto Lucas

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