20 May

Frontier(s) of torture

Posted by Nathan Rand | Tuesday May 20, 2008 | Reviews

FrontiersFrontier(s)

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.

7 Comments 

  1. May 21, 2008 4:57 am

    Dan

    Caught this one in the theater during a recent trip to Seattle and couldn’t disagree with you more. I didn’t feel like any of the characters were brought to life and the storyline was predictable with a very “been there seen that” feel to it. Frankly, I don’t get much charge out of this type of torture horror which seems intent on just grossing out the viewer for the sake of grossing out the viewer. Hooper’s original CHAINSAW is a far more powerful look at the family dynamic gone haywire with 1/100th of the gore but 1000 times the raw tension while Marshall’s THE DESCENT at least took the time to flesh out characters we cared about before he put them through the paces. Maybe I’m just getting old but I don’t find anything entertaining about this sort of “horror” anymore.

  2. May 21, 2008 4:06 pm

    Nathan Rand

    …And you are, of course, welcome to disagree. I still stand by my argument: I think there is more to Frontier(s) than a simple gross-out, the cast delivered great performances across the board, and the intensity didn’t let up once the movie got going.

    Is it a perfect movie? Absolutely not. Have there been better horror movies? Certainly. I don’t think Frontier(s) is the second coming, but I do think it is a very well executed thrill-ride that delivers on what it promises an audience.

  3. May 21, 2008 8:53 pm

    Lurple

    I’ve seen this movie compared to À l’intérieur a lot recently. I’ll have to check it out when I’m in the mood for something unpleasant.

  4. May 21, 2008 10:10 pm

    Nathan Rand

    To be honest, I really wouldn’t compare the two. I like them both, but for completely different reasons. À l’intérieur is actually the superior film ( and far more brutal ), but both exist entirely on their own terms. The gore is more vicious in À l’intérieur but Frontier(s) focuses more on pure violence.

  5. May 22, 2008 2:42 am

    Lurple

    I am sure that the reason the two names come up together so often is that they are both French, and they’re both pretty brutal. It’s gotten people interested in looking for other French horror films along the same lines, wondering what they might have missed.

    I’ve only seen À l’intérieur at this point and I can definitely agree that it was vicious. The level of gore was staggering given the short running time and small cast.

  6. May 22, 2008 6:47 am

    Nathan Rand

    Certainly. Comparisons are inevitable, but people expecting a movie similar to À l’intérieur are going to get something completely different. The French really are on a roll with this stuff right now.

  7. June 10, 2008 11:14 am

    Nita

    I finally got the chance to see this film last week and I have very mixed emotions. I found the cinematography very well done. The characters were rather “real” and the tension was there…though not as tense as I expected.
    The violence factor was a skinch on the tame side, however there was enough blood to fill an olympic sized swimming pool.
    Over all…a valiant effort.
    Nate, you did the best job making me want to go see it! I have to thank you for a decient suggestion.


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