Dir: Xavier Gens
Cast: Karina Testa, Aurelien Wiik, Patrick Legardes, David Saracino, Maud Forget, Samuel Le Bihan, Chems Dahmani, Amelie Daure, Estelle Lefebure, Rosine Favey, Adel Bencherif, Joel LeFrancois, Jean-Pierre Jorris
We live in an age of “high-concept” horror and as such we are treated to a near-endless barrage of convoluted scenarios in which the vengeful unknown stalks us through videocassettes, the internet and our cell phones. While this approach is certainly novel and in harmony with the understandable paranoia of a society under constant surveillance, the aggressively postmodern horror film consistently fails to elicit the primal response triggered by far simpler ideas. With Frontier(s), director Xavier Gens strips nearly all artifice and trickery away and drops the viewer into hell without mercy.
Set against a backdrop of political unrest in a near-future France, Frontier(s) follows five thieves who use the chaos of Parisian riots to stage a series of heists across the city. The film opens as a botched job draws the attention of the law and a frantic gunfight with the police ensues. One of our team of would-be robbers takes a bullet to the gut which proves to be fatal, leaving the survivors with only one choice: split up and escape into the French countryside with the loot to evade the law and regroup. Two of our heroes find a remote hotel to hole up in and are greeted with uncomfortable friendliness by the proprietors, the Von Geisler clan. The Von Geislers are a bizarre lot comprised of two attractive sisters (one of whom drinks like a fish), a hunchbacked woman, a grunting he-man known as Goetz, a hulking butcher, and the sinister, jackbooted figure known only as “Father.” We quickly learn that the Von Geislers have anything but good intentions for their guests and shortly before the family bares its teeth our friends call their comrades to set up their rendezvous.
By now, most of these story elements probably sound very familiar…and they are. The same basic plotline has been used to varying degrees of success through the years, most notably in Tobe Hooper’s seminal “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Recently, there have been a rash of horror movies exploring very similar territory but Frontier(s) trumps them all by turning up the intensity to a level not seen since Leatherface first fired up his trusty ‘Saw. This film is frenzied, grim, gory, and almost gleefully cruel. Vicious beatings are administered, Achilles tendons are snapped, heads pop like water balloons full of gore, and a table saw provides one of the most over-the-top and satisfying deaths in recent memory. The deal is sealed with the introduction of Father, a towering, neo-nazi nightmare who stands as quite possibly one of the most disturbing new characters in the genre. Father has one goal: to breed his own master race. Though Father doesn’t see much screen time, each appearance is played for maximum effectiveness and his unbridled fanaticism is chilling. This is a man who did not stop working toward the goals of the Reich after the war and is so caught up in his fervor that he believes he can succeed where Hitler failed.
None of this would matter if Frontier(s) didn’t have characters an audience could identify with, and the movie hits the right notes in this department as well. The heroes of the film may be opportunistic criminals but they have turned to crime as a means to strike back at a country that does not belong to them anymore. In fleeing the wrath of a fascist police state, the rebels are delivered into the hands of nazis. Our main character, Yasmina ( Karina Testa ), begins the film expressing her intent to have an abortion because she does not wish to raise a child in a world this ugly. She ends up being held captive as a breeding vessel for a new Master Race. It is clear that Frontier(s) has more on its mind than simply terrorizing its audience, as the protagonists torment at the hands of their captors grotesquely mirrors that of the citizenry under a dictatorship. All of the characters in Frontier(s) are brought to life with very strong performances, particularly by leading lady Testa ( who is reduced to a complete wreck by the end of the movie). The viewer wants these people to beat the State, so watching their reduction from humans to cattle is truly disturbing.
Frontier(s) proves that all that is required to make an effective horror film is an acute understanding of terror as an emotion. There are no fancy plot devices, obtuse technological terrors, or non-linear narrative threads. In their place is a non-stop, express bus to hell that combines elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Hostel, and The Descent with hints of social commentary that results in one of the most potent and downright nasty horror movies in recent memory. After finishing this movie, the viewer will feel exhausted, abused, and more than a little dirty. This is exactly what a great horror movie should do. Do not pass up the opportunity to give this one a watch.