In the 2000’s, the horror genre was arguably dominated by three trends: (1) Torture Porn, (2) Remakes, and (3) the New French Extremity movement. The classier European cousin to ‘Torture Porn’, the New French Extremity movement pushed against what one previously thought could and couldn’t be shown on screen. From High Tension to Inside to Martyrs, ‘New French Extremity‘ proved to be one of the more transgressive periods in horror history. While not receiving the same level of attention of some of its counterparts, Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) is an overlooked title that’s worth a look for fans of hardcore horror.
Following the election of a controversial far-right candidate as French president, Paris erupts into riots. Set against this political backdrop, a group of young French Muslim Arabs attempt a bank robbery to secure money to get out of the country. When one of their members is shot and abandoned at a hospital, the others flee the city and take refuge in a family-operated inn along the border. Things quickly go from bad to worse as the innkeepers turn out to be neo-Nazi cannibals with no intentions of letting their guests leave.
Gens Stitches Together Ideas From Several Better Films
No one is likely to accuse Frontier(s) of being the most original film. Director Xavier Gens, who also wrote the screenplay, liberally borrows ideas and plot points from several better horror films. Perhaps the most obvious influence is Eli Roth’s Hostel. Roth’s fingerprints are perhaps most evident in the film’s aesthetic. The dilapidated structures and claustrophobic halls in which characters find themselves hopelessly trapped in Frontier(s) are reminiscent of Hostel’s abandoned Eastern European factories. There’s also more than a tip of the hat to the Backwoods Horror sub-genre, particularly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Young urbanites running afoul of rural folk is nothing new for horror fans, but Frontier(s) even builds a bizzaro family dinner into its climax.
Gens’ neo-Nazi villains don’t exactly tread fresh ground in the horror genre either. ‘Nazis as monsters’ is a familiar, if not entirely common, trope. Ultimately, like any attempt at homage, Frontier(s) straddles a fine line between tribute and shameless imitation.
Bigger Ideas Never Fully Realized
Some credit should go to Gens for trying to infuse his film with bigger ideas. It’s certainly not hard to see where he was aiming. A horror film about young French Muslims terrorized by neo-Nazi cannibals set against the backdrop of Paris riots and the election of a right-wing populist surely meant to say something profound. Faculty of Horror co-host Alexandra West, author of Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity, has discussed these ideas in (much better) detail.
In spite of his best intentions, any pointed political subtext is lost in the progressive onslaught of intense violence in Frontier(s).
In spite of his best intentions, any pointed political subtext is lost in the progressive onslaught of intense violence in Frontier(s). By the time Gens’ blood-soaked climax starts to unfold, casual horror fans have likely turned the film off while the hardcore crowd will be too immersed in the carnage. Many of the ideas that seemingly surface also border on tasteless at times. It’s somewhat unfortunate because one could easily imagine how relevant some deeper commentary would be in today’s political climax.
Frontier(s)’ Intense and Over-the-Top Violence Compensates for Its Limitations
Frontier(s) may borrow some of its aesthetics from Eli Roth’s Hostel, but like its New French Extremity counterparts, the film’s violent set pieces are so wildly over-the-top as to be almost incomparable. There’s a lurid level of creativity on display in Frontier(s) in its execution of cruelty and violence that exceeds much of what the American ‘Torture Porn’ cycle released. One character is cooked alive in a boiler, while another character is butchered with a table saw. All of these scenes of graphic violence are well-staged, intense, and captured with brilliantly disturbing make-up effects.
All these scenes of graphic violence are well-staged, intense, and captured with brilliantly disturbing make-up effects.
Less impressive are the performances in Frontier(s). No one performance can be characterized as wooden or outright terrible. Several actors turn in characterizations that are as outlandish as the film’s premise and violence. Karina Testa and Aurélien Wilk, as Yasmine and Alex, impress with their steady and gruelling portrayals – they overcome the heavy-handed premise and manage to always seem believable. But let’s face it. No one is watching Frontier(s) for the acting and nothing is so poor as to drag things down.
A Lesser But Serviceable Entry in the New French Extremity
Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) never reaches the heights of other New French Extremity releases like High Tension or Inside. Yet for all of its faults, Frontier(s) remains a very watchable hardcore horror film. Gens excels at ratcheting up the intensity and delivering the uncompromising gore one expects from the subgenre. To date, Gens has never delivered another film that approaches Frontier(s). Certainly not to every horror fan’s tastes, Frontier(s) will appeal to fans of the New French Extremity movement who may have missed this title.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-