Frontier(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007)

I love the New French Extremity. For me, the relatively new wave of French horror films has really breathed some new life into my beloved genre; not only is the violence more extreme, the ways of telling scary stories, and the elements contained within said stories, are often more developed and thought-provoking than your average American horror movie. Frontier(s) had the potential to be the biggest breakthrough film of this breed of horror films. It was originally chosen to be a part of the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest, but after getting slapped with an NC-17 rating, was demoted to a very limited release and a life on DVD.

One one hand, that’s too bad. Frontier(s), despite the terribly parenthesis-ed title, could have been a small hit. It follows a familiar formula in American horror movies (actually, follows very closely the Texas Chainsaw Massacre formula): some kids get into trouble, run away into the country, find way worse trouble than they were running from. Only these characters’ trouble revolves around their participation in political riots after the election of a conservative president; they feel threatened as Muslims and one of the gang beats up a cop. Our pregnant protagonist Yasmine’s brother dies in the aftermath, and the gang splits up and meets at a bed and breakfast in the country. But, of course, the inn is run by Nazi cannibals looking to start a new master race. Of course. Yasmine is spared a bloody fate because her captives want her baby. There is a great, bitter irony in the fact that these Nazis want Yasmine’s baby while saluting “pure blood” over dinner.

The plot of Frontier(s) is promising, but the film never quite delivers what it should. Almost nothing of interest happens in the first half of the movie – in fact, things actually only get interesting in the last half hour or so, after most of the main characters have been killed. The most engaging parts of the movie are those between Yasmine and a girl living in the house who is also pregnant, but very supportive and caring, to a creepy extent, towards Yasmine. Gens seems to suggest, through the girl’s actions in the film’s climax, that there’s some sort of universal bond of sisterhood between pregnant women, one that transcends family and history. I can’t decide if I think this idea is empowering or just a little silly and lazy writing (although, interestingly enough, Yasmine doesn’t feel the same way towards the younger girl, as evidenced near the end of the film).

Like Martyrs, Frontier(s) can be interpreted as feminist; Yasmine spits at the family, “I’m not obedient! I never will be!” and I wanted to get up and cheer for her. When she secretly brandishes an axe to use against her male captor as he screams at her about how she will listen to him and start being obedient after all, it’s a perfect visual metaphor for the hidden female rage and violence that Yasmine has inside herself.

But that’s really where Frontier(s) stops being interesting. Xavier Gens takes the momentum out of a few key scenes with poor editing and music choices. Distracting music is played over a violent scene at dinner, undercutting the brutality where it could and should speak for itself. In the climactic scene, there is an onslaught of machine gun violence and explosions, which seem strangely out of place with the more “personal” violence of the rest of the film.

While watching the movie, a year or so after seeing it for the first time and having become more familiar with French horror since then, I was really struck by the similarities to other films of the genre. It has the pregnancy violence of Inside! It has a painful haircutting scene, just like Calvaire and Martyrs! It has freaky country folk, just like Sheitan, Calvaire, and Ils! I certainly don’t think Frontier(s) ripped any of those other films off, as some of them were made after this one, but all these elements just reminded me that I wasn’t watching any of those other films. And I wish I had been.

Bottom line: Not a complete waste of time, but it’s best undertaken after seeing other, stronger French horror first. 7/10

Date watched: 1 January – film 1 of 2010

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2 responses to “Frontier(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007)

  1. I’ve always thought Pascal Laugier’s thoughts on the New Wave pretty interesting, myself. I agree on most counts – Frontier(s) is poorly edited and perhaps unwittingly spoils a lot of potential excellence. It really kind of struck me as an amateurish outing, especially when stacked against its contemporaries.

    • dana danger.

      i read somewhere that gens got the hitman directing job immediately after this was released, and knowing that makes me think this was just a tryout for a big american job. it does seem more like a mediocre american horror film (in pacing and editing) than anything else.

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