Frontier(s). 2007. Directed & Written by Xavier Gens.
Starring Karina Testa, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefébure, Aurélien Wiik, David Saracino, Chems Dahmani, Maud Forget, Amélie Daure, Rosine Favey, Adel Bencherif, Joël Lefrançois, Patrick Ligardes, and Jean-Pierre Jorris. Cartel Productions.
Rated NC-17. 108 minutes.
I’m a fan of Xavier Gens. Aside from Hitman, I think what I’ve seen of his filmography has been pretty spectacular. This was the first movie I’d seen directed by him, Frontier(s), and though some say it’s merely a Texas Chain Saw Massacre rip-off except in French, I thought it was a pretty good horror. An unsettling piece of work. So in an effort to watch more of his films, I waited and waited after hearing about The Divide until finally it came out; I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. That’s a completely different horror-thriller than this beast, but great in its own right; a devastatingly intense, emotional film about life after an epidemic breaks out and a city goes underground essentially. Then his segment “X is for XXL” in The ABCs of Death is fantastically grim, one of the best short horror films I’ve ever seen honestly.
But overall, I do feel that Frontier(s) is probably my favourite. There’s a familiarity about the story in this movie, definitely harkening back to Tobe Hooper’s indie horror masterpiece, but something about is different. It isn’t simply the plot which makes things different, I do find a genuine atmosphere and tone about Gens’ work here. In opposition to many other films trying to riff off TCM, Frontier(s) uses the basics of that setup in order to explore an entirely different plot. Although you might see bits where it feels as if Hooper is being carbon copied, Xavier Gens only uses that as influence, perhaps a scene or two of homage. Apart from that, his film is a horrific story about desperation, family, and the will to survive.
Frontier(s) begins with a new French president being elected into the office of France; he is a right-wing extreme type. A group of thieves – Alex (Aurélien Wiik), Tom (David Saracino), Farid (Chems Dahmani), Yasmine (Karine Testa) who is with child, and her brother Sami (Adel Bencherif) – use the riots which have erupted in Paris due to the new president as a cover for a robbery. When Sami is shot, the group splits up so that one can take him to the hospital. They agree to meat at an inn near the border.
When Tom and Farid take all the money and head to the inn, they meet innkeepers Gilberte (Estelle Lefébure) and Klaudia (Amélie Daure) who are fairly seductive. Things seem to be going pretty well at first, as the boys have a little fun in one of the rooms with the women. But soon it becomes clear the family running the inn are a little more than xenophobic. First, their apprehension towards Farid after he mentions he is Muslim speaks volumes. Although, racism is the least of Farid and Tom’s worries. Violence breaks out between the two men and two of the other psychopathic innkeepers, Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan) and Karl (Patrick Ligardes).
Once Alex and Yasmine arrive things get even worse. If that’s possible.
It’s when the family patriarch appears, Von Geisler (Jean-Pierre Jorris), the remaining guests come to understand definitively something is not right at the inn.
What follows is a descent into terror at the hands of a neo-Nazi family, hellbent on keeping the bloodline pure. Ironically enough, though, Yasmine – not caucasian by any means – is their choice to help extend the family and provide another male heir. Seems even the white supremacists throw their beliefs out the window sometimes, too. Sadly and unfortunately for Yasmine, this will lead to horrific consequences which she’ll somehow have to try and live through.
As I said before, no doubt you’ll find some similarities between Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Frontier(s). That being said, I think there’s a grandiosity to the family in this film that simply isn’t there with Leatherface and his family of mad cannibalistic Texans. Not saying I like this better, I don’t; TCM is one of my personal favourites, always has been, always will be. Regardless, I still do love this movie.
The family here seems to be like a small unit at first. However, it’s once the film progresses you see there’s a true clan. I enjoy the way it’s revealed as well, the extent of the family.
First, we get a glimpse around 40 minutes in or so, as Tom and Farid have driven into a massive pit, crashing the car and nearly killing themselves; they wander and find a possible way out, crawling through a tight tunnel-like hole, but come across strange creatures.
Later on, we figure out exactly what the creatures are, how they got there, which all comes to bear on the plot of the family. It’s pretty disturbing.
Something that always makes me enjoy a film, particularly horror, is if the atmosphere and tone are set correctly. As well as if they hold up throughout an entire film. Gens does well creating a tense atmosphere. The whole film has a dark, shady quality throughout every scene, almost as if a layer of fog sits over each frame. Furthermore, this helps to set a grim tone. You expect only bad things to happen, no matter how hard you hope for these people to make it out, no matter how badly you them to succeed and break away from this mad, Nazi family, there’s no hope anywhere. Not a bit.
Even more than the the shots themselves, many of which are intense, the film’s colour palette is incredible. That grim tone I mentioned is made even more nasty in that the whole movie looks washed out in grey. Gens achieves the foggy look with a colour scheme that isn’t only in the frames, the characters are all dressed in very drag colours for the most part, so other than a few points – particularly with BLOOD – every single shot looks hopeless; dreadful, in a good sense. That’s ultimately how any film can hope to achieve an aesthetic which adds to the film’s atmosphere and helps to create a sustainable tone to terrify its audience – through the use of colour, camerawork, and an overall compound of visual aspects to sort of setup a universe within the film itself.
One thing I found didn’t really impress me at all about Frontier(s) was the score. I think had someone composed a more unsettling bit of work in many of the scenes, I’d lift this movie even higher in my rankings than it already is now. A great score can take a mediocre movie and make it pretty damn good. Lacking here is such a score. If anything about Frontier(s) is derivative, it’s the music. There’s a part right before Alex and Yasmine experience the horror of the Nazi inn, full force, when the music sounds like a cheap rip-off of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score and it actually almost made me laugh.
As far as the sound design, I think a great job was done. Mostly my problem is with the music itself. There are a lot of excellently ominous background noises happening, especially in the big animal factory or whatever you want to call it; pigs making noise, chains rattling, and a foreboding, shadowy ambience around it all. If the score itself were something better, this movie would honestly impress me far more than it does. Not to say it isn’t impressive, that’s simply an aspect I think would’ve lifted this above an already great horror to near masterpiece.
For any of the hardcore horror hounds who need that good ole blood and gore, there’s certainly no shortage when it comes to Frontier(s). While it’s not the most savage thing I’ve ever seen, there are plenty of awesomely horrific moments that will tickle that horror bone. Even just the filthy feel of so many scenes is enough to put you in that terrorized headspace. Once the remaining guests at the inn are divided up in that animal factory – that’s just what I’m calling it now, for your information – things get nasty. You really feel bad for these characters, as they’ve each got to deal with their separate fates. Watching Yasmine and Alex roll around in the mud of one of those pig pens is already bad enough.
But it’s the gory bits that are worth the price of admission here. Gens gives us enough blood to satisfy the urge. As the film wears on, more people get maimed, more people die. It’s the ending which really delivers on this end, as Yasmine is forced to fight for her life in order to try and find way off that farm and back to real life, out there somewhere. A slick look to the film, Gens makes the savagery look gorgeous in a twisted way. But make no mistake about it, there is horror and the gore is present!
One huge thing I love about the New French Extremity movement, and French horror in general as of late, is the fact many of their films end up with strong female characters. Some times they are heroes, other times more like the “final girl” trope. However, Yasmine in Frontier(s) relies on no man to save her, she fights and claws her way from out of the Nazi inn, full of blood and viscera by the time she does, and it’s refreshing. Normally we have to see the female character raped and violated, then half the time a man runs in to save her; here, most of any real atrocities she faces are not shown, and there’s no need for anyone else to save Yasmine, she is no damsel in distress. Part of why I love this movie and why it isn’t simply a rip-off of previous horror. This is fresh in its own ways, of which a strong female lead is one.
There’s no way I can give Frontier(s) any less than 4 stars. I actually wanted to give it a half star more, but I think the score disappointed me enough that I felt it took something away from what could’ve been accomplished. In the end, it doesn’t matter too much. This is still a totally solid, effective horror. It follows in much the same vein as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, yet it doesn’t aim to repeat all the same moves, and it doesn’t try to carbon copy the characters or events. Xavier Gens comes up with an interesting new plot to add with a familiar story. While it might feel we’re seeing something that’s been done before, Gens gives us a fresh look at the family of killers sub-genre so often implemented in horror. Here it’s not only a crazed family of murderers, they also happen to be Nazis – upholders of racial purity. So there’s something extremely dark and eerie about the fact this family takes Yasmine as the new ‘bride’; haunts me to this day. There’s also the fact Yasmine is pregnant from the beginning, so this plays into the Nazi family plans later in the film. Lots of things going on behind the curtain.
I always recommend Gens’ Frontier(s) as a solid modern horror that has homages of older classics, but is all very much its own bouquet of horrors. If you want something intense, disturbing, and full of nasty blood and gore, you could do a lot worse than see this one.