*** out of ****
Horror directors are a peculiar breed. With “Frontier(s)”, director Xavier Gens has taken the Paris riots and envisioned the cruel aftermath through heads exploding, tendons being cut, parts of the neck being bitten clean off, and terrible death by gas chamber. In a sense, Gens might just be blowing off a lot of steam with the amount of carnage that he chooses to show; but at the same time, there’s a greater craft at work underneath all the horrible acts committed in this strange but oddly fascinating horror feature from France. It may seem like Gens is cashing in on the basic premise of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on the surface, but he has the qualities of a stylistically gifted filmmaker, and it’s these qualities that allow him to make a run-of-the-mill plot interesting yet again. One could say that he breathes new life into the slasher conventions and horror clichés that he himself employs for the story. It’s nothing so outlandishly new that you’ll want to shower it with the highest amount of praise possible, but it’s good enough. Take a look at the kind of slasher pictures that America is making at the moment and tell me I’m wrong.
The film begins with the riots that inspired it. The streets of Paris are in chaos, and immediately after they are introduced, our central characters must do their best to flee the scene. They are Alex, Tom, Farid, Sami, and his pregnant sister Yasmine. Sami and Yasmine have just attempted a robbery; with Sami being shot soon thereafter. The group must split up into two separate cars and get their dying friend to the nearest hospital. Farid and Tom take one car; Yasmine, Sami, and Alex take the other. When they do get to the hospital, it’s too late; and the surviving members of the party must be on the road yet again. Meanwhile, Farid and Tom have found a resting place for the night; a hostel located very close to the border. Upon arriving, they notice that it’s a very strange place; although it’s homely, and two very beautiful women are right there for the taking. The place seems to be run by a burly man named Goetz. He is fairly “off” – if you know what I mean – but the boys aren’t looking for any trouble, so they don’t question the off-kilter looks that he flashes them.
An absolutely gross dinner scene with those who operate the hostel and the boys provokes one to ask a few questions in regards to the normality of the family. Before the men can ask the girls and Goetz themselves, they’re already doing battle with the latter. He chases them and their car into a ditch that leads to a nearby coal mine. And that’s the end of that. Not too long after this, the others arrive; unaware of the sadistic intentions of the family. It is then that we meet the REAL man of the house, the aging neo Nazi Von Geisler. So I guess that explains the gas chamber scene.
I have a love-hate relationship with ultra-violence. I respect that it can serve a purpose in the context of a story, but it can also be abused and become excessive or disturbing. The violence in “Frontier(s)” is both of those things, but also sort of provocative. Not only are the make-up effects by Nicolas Herlin and Laetitia Hillion insane and effective; but also evocative of Gens’ state of mind. He must have been so angry with the world to want to do this kind of film in the style that he chose (which is, if I might add, somewhat imperfect). The film is a personal vision, but not one that cannot be appreciated whatsoever by the understanding horror fans of the world. That is perhaps the most forgiving crowd. More casual or misunderstanding viewers might hate the decision on Gens part to make violence a central focus. But I wouldn’t praise a film if it was just violence without any artistic substance. “Frontier(s)”, while relentlessly brutal and ferocious throughout, is also genuinely creepy and moody. The suspense scenes are where it really scores big time. The cinematography is pretty much master-class, and I adored the color tinting job that Gens gave the picture. Pretty much every scene feels at least somewhat lively and eccentric.
Nazis, Holocaust references galore, political undertones, and enough hardcore extremist violence to warrant an NC-17 rating; “Frontier(s)” delivers the bloody goods stylishly enough for me to recommend it, if only to a crowd accepting of its level of blood and gore spillage. Still, I think the story – for what it is – works to the best effect, even if the characters aren’t particularly well-developed or given dramatic weight. This is not a film of great depth – even the political messages come off as a tad heavy-handed and overly simplistic – but it’s still a wild, wild ride. It’s one of those rare full-frontal assault pictures that I wish more people had the guts and free-will to make nowadays; very reminiscent of a film from, say, the ever-so-brave 70’s. If you see what I’m getting at, then you’re probably ready for the film.