Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for Extreme Sadistic Graphic Violence and Gore
(French with English subtitles)
Directed by: Xavier Gens
Written by: Xavier Gens
Starring: Karina Testa, Aurellen Wiik, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefebure, David Saracino, Chems Dahmani, Adel Bencherif, Maud Forget & Jean-Pierre Jorris
FRONTIER(S) is another example of New French Extremity and had a rather rocky road to American theaters. This gorefest was originally slated as part of the After Dark Horrorfest 2007 (remember when that cool little experiment backfired?). However, it never hit screens in November 2007 because this film got slapped with an NC-17 rating for its sheer brutality. In May 2008, FRONTIER(S) hit 10 theaters and was quickly released onto home video a few days later. Besides being extremely gory and aiming to extremely disturb its viewer, FRONTIER(S) is also an extremely entertaining treat for horror fans!
After a right-wing candidate’s election sparks riots in Paris, a street gang plots to escape the city. To do this, they will need cash and they solve this problem by quickly pulling off a robbery. Yasmine (Karina Testa), Alex (Aurellen Wiik), Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani) decide to hide out (with their suitcase of illegally acquired cash) in a small inn near the border. However, this decision may have been their gravest mistake because the family-run establishment happens to be owned by a sadistic, inbred group of psychopathic neo-Nazis. Lots of gory violence ensues.
The premise of FRONTIER(S) is simple to a fault, but the script unsuccessfully attempts to pull off a half-assed message too. This mainly comes in the political backdrop of France being the starting point for this story, wherein the gang’s mistakes launch them out of the frying pan and into the fire. It’s clear that director/writer Xavier Gens was trying to make a statement by having one of the gang members be openly Muslim and cut to an awkward transition of a Jesus statue for no apparent reason. However, I don’t think he succeeded in this at all. He further makes the viewer shrug their shoulders by throwing in awkward transitions of landscape shots that slightly interrupt the film’s flow. This all being said, Xavier Gens’s FRONTIER(S) also succeeds in many different (more visceral) areas.
Though I suspect Xavier Gens tried to make this film as disturbing as humanly possible, I actually felt that FRONTIER(S) was a very fun thrill ride. Again, I don’t know if this film’s intention was to be entertaining from the get-to, but I definitely had a lot fun watching it. This script feels like a love-letter to 70s slasher films and shocksploitation cinema, while never really leaving a bad taste in your mouth. There are gallons of blood and gore, but these bits resemble 2003’s TEXAS CHAINSAW remake cranked up to 11. Be prepared for things to get ultra-gory, but also be prepared to be totally entertained. After all, this is a slasher movie that features crazy cannibal Nazi rednecks on the outskirts of France.
Though occasional stylish transitions can be jarring, the film’s cinematography is stunning. I don’t know what it is about the New French Extremity titles that I’ve seen so far, but French directors seem gifted with the slightly disturbing ability to film horrible things in beautiful ways. FRONTIER(S) is no exception as the viewer is thrust into the hellish inn (and a nearby abandoned mining facility) with a grim atmosphere. In almost every scene, the viewer can see every speck of dirt, bead of sweat, and gush of blood…and they’re all gorgeous.
The gang characters are a bit weak as Yasmine is clearly the final girl from the get-go and the only “good” person worth caring about. Karina Testa gives a great performance as this female protagonist trapped in a Nazi cannibal-filled nightmare. She gets her share of bad-ass heroine moments and delivers the best damn kill in the entire film (you’ll know it when it happens). Testa also receives a couple of scenes that reminded me of Marilyn Burns (from Tobe Hooper’s original TEXAS CHAINSAW). The other gang members are just lambs to the ultra-sadistic slaughter. It also doesn’t help that these three guys are scumbags and the viewer will most likely to be rooting to see their gory demise, rather than wanting any of these pricks to survive.
The performances are significantly better from the neo-Nazi family of psychopaths. It looks like Xavier Gens scoured the French countryside to find actual French neo-Nazi cannibal rednecks and then just hired them on the spot as actors. Each antagonist has a distinct look and colorful personality behind them. My favorite of the villainous bunch was easily super-muscular Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan) who looks like he could break a man in half with his bare hands and is legitimately terrifying. Patrick Ligardes doesn’t receive much screen time as the most calculating member of the Nazi bunch, but makes the most of his role. Estelle Lefebure rocks as a slutty, gun-wielding clerk. Meanwhile, Maud Forget is a bit too over-the-top as super-shy Eva and Jean-Pierre Jorris chews the scenery as the sick Nazi grandfather/head of the family.
FRONTIER(S) clearly wears its horror influences on its sleeves. There’s plenty of nods to TEXAS CHAINSAW and even touches of THE DESCENT, but this French film is gorgeous to look at and has lots of style. The story may not be original and the characters are mixed (lots of them are one-dimensional victims and villains), but this will thoroughly entertain gore-loving horror fans and packs plenty of memorable moments into its well-paced 108 minutes. FRONTIER(S) is basically THE FRENCH CHAINSAW MASSACRE and I mean that in the best way possible!