The American tagline for Frontier(s) is “The French answer to Hostel and Saw” which manages to be pithily inaccurate and appropriate at the same time. Frontier(s) is riding the new Gallic wave of horror (popularized by High Tension) which relies on slick production and a muscular propensity for splatter. Alexandre Aja came before the American harbingers of torture-porn, but whether or not one clique influences the other, they both suffer the same genre pitfalls: they rely on their aesthetic instead of a competent purpose, creating an impressive visual palette which houses nothing more than the dreary, dull, and disgusting.
One thing that potentially separates these French films from the rest of the pack is their attempt at satire or prescience, especially concerning the civil unrest surrounding the 2005 banlieues riots and the recent election of right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy. But I’m not sure if these stabs at higher purpose help or hinder these films, which include last year’s ghastliest bloodbath — Inside. Xavier Gens, who wrote and directed Frontier(s) might like us to believe his horror film is a mirror of modern social disturbance, an indictment of Vichy complicity during World War II, and/or a satire of civilized paranoia toward all things rural, but who the fuck is he kidding? This isn’t La Haine. These just happen to be topical launching grounds for blood and viscera. Beyond the might makes right mentality of violence justifying a horror film, Gens isn’t saying shit.
We begin with four friends, thugs who take advantage of the election-day riots to commit a heist. With the exception of heroine-to-be Yasmine (Karina Testa), a freshly pregnant girl dumped by her asshole boyfriend and whose brother has been killed, this is a pretty unsympathetic lot. The group hotfoots it to the Luxembourg border, holing up in a rural inn run by Neo-Nazi superfreaks. A debauched paterfamilias rules a coven of nymphomaniacs, inbred brutes, cannibals and mutant CHUDs. Also, they’re Nazis. And if you guessed that our putative heroes don’t coexist in pleasant harmony with these wacky, murdering mongoloids, you’d be correct. They maim, mash, and murder them with all the barf-inducing aplomb that Gens can muster. Only Yasmine, our requisite last-lady-standing, endures, kept alive to be some kind of master race baby-mama; it’s only in the last ten minutes or so that the worm turns and she begins beating Nazi ass.
I could give you a million reasons as to why Frontier(s) is a lousy horror movie, citing the lack of sympathetic characters, boring and dreary exposition, and reliance on nasty gore without a compound sense of involvement, but what really brings my piss to a boil is that the entire political-historical allegory one might get from this lurid slasher is, at best, a red herring. Fellow French horror fiends like Aja, Alexandre Bustillio and Julien Maury have made it clear that they intend to beat American horror at its own game, and Gens is no exception, making a film which owes its entire mien to The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the names are the same, only the level of gore has changed. And that’s fine (I guess), but when Gens uses very French events as a foundation for his hellish yarn but then doesn’t do anything remotely original, content to out-blood his influences, I can’t help but feel duped. If recent filmic trends are to be believed, there are some very fucked-up things going on in France. I just wish someone had something more worthwhile to say about it than this.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and drinks Evan Williams in the afternoon.
Frontier(s) / Phillip Stephens
Film | May 13, 2008 | Comments ()