Karina Testa - Yasmine
Aurelien Wilk - Alex
Jean-Pierre Jorris - Herr von Geisler
Patrick Ligardes - Carl von Geisler
David Saracino - Tom
Maud Forget - Eva
Samuel Le Bihan - Goetz
Chems Dahmani - Farid
Genre - Horror/Survival/Foreign
Running Time - 109 Minutes
With a lot of people being frustrated by the current state of U.S. mainstream horror due to the remake trend, they've been looking elsewhere for their horror fix. Some stay with the classics and are completely satisfied watching these films over and over. Others look into the independent horror scene, appreciating what unknown filmmakers are presenting with lesser budgets. And then there are those who watch horror from other countries. Either way, the horror fix is being satisfied in some way, shape, or form.
One of the major countries where horror has been appreciated currently is France. The buzz really began in 2003 with Alexandra Aja's HAUTE TENSION, which in turn led to 2006's ILS, 2007's INSIDE, and 2008's MARTYRS. Instead of presenting PG-13 horror for mainstream audiences, horror in France doesn't hold back, presenting very adult themes and massive ways of gore and violence that have been memorable to those who have seen these films [even to Hollywood studios who want to remake these films - 2008's THE STRANGERS was a quasi-remake of ILS while MARTYRS is being planned for an Americanized reimagining].
One of these French horror films that has gained a lot of attention is FRONTIER(S), a brutal survival horror film directed and written by HITMAN director, Xavier Gens. FRONTIER(S) had quite a journey to get released in the United States. After Dark Films had planned for the film to be part of its Horrorfest: 8 Films To Die For series in 2007, where it would have been shown in theaters with the other seven films. However, the MPAA rated the film NC-17, which caused the film to be pulled out of its theatrical release. The film was released on DVD a year later, where it gained an audience.
FRONTIER(S) is an interesting film compared to the other French horror that has been recently released. The film, while French in nature, pretty much takes the American horror template used in what's called "Backwoods Horror" such as DELIVERANCE (1972), THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), and especially THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) as its main narrative to drive the film forward while being much more brutal and gorier than most TCM films. It's almost as if Xavier Gens wanted to prove a point that what works [quite constantly since a lot of horror films use the TCM formula] in the United States can also work in other countries, such as France. And while FRONTIER(S) isn't as good as the original Tobe Hooper classic, or as memorable as its other French horror counterparts, the film is still worth a look.
Horrible riots have taken over Paris. A group of friends, who are now wanted after a robbery, run away from the riots and the local authorities to make sure their plan stays intact. Farid (Chems Dahmani) and Tom (David Saracino) are ordered to find a place to hide, while pregnant Yasmine (Karina Testa) and her on-and-off boyfriend Alex (Aurelien Wilk) take Yasmine's brother Sami (Adel Bencherif) to the hospital after he's been shot. Unfortunately, Sami dies the moment he makes it to the hospital, which catches the interest of the local police. Yasmine and Alex run away and take off to meet up with Farid and Tom, who are staying at a countryside hostel. What they fail to realize that the people who own this hostel are really Neo-Nazis, who eat human flesh and impregnate the women they capture in order to create a "pure-blood" race to continue the family legacy.
FRONTIER(S), like I mentioned, is pretty much by-the-numbers THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE but in Paris, France instead of Paris, Texas. While the template for me is a bit tired [you have no idea how many horror films I have watched that have used the TCM model], at least it's interesting to see a French version of it. Still, compared to HAUTE TENSION [which had a memorable plot twist that people still debate about] and MARTYRS [a film that really did things outside the proverbial box], FRONTIER(S) comes off a bit generic and "been there, done that". Still, at least FRONTIER(S) uses the template well enough to be more than watchable.
FRONTIER(S) is a pretty predictable film with a pretty predictable narrative. If you've seen THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and you've seen HOSTEL, then you've probably seen this film. It's easy to figure out what's going to happen in the film: A group of strangers go into the country, find a place to stay at that's run by eccentric characters who happen to be Nazi cannibals who want to kill them. And who stays alive the longest in the film? Well since there's only one girl protagonist in the film, I'll give you a guess. While the journey getting there is always fun, and especially bloody and gory, you still get a sense that you've seen this film before. But horror is hardly original these days, so I should commend Xavier Gens to choosing a great film to base FRONTIER(S) on. But I wish there could have been more surprising elements in play to really make the film stand out beyond its country of origin. Having a character hang by hooks and another character sitting with the family at dinner as they eat human flesh isn't exactly thrilling like it used to be. I'll watch the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE for that.
The most interesting thing about the narrative is the backdrop that deals with the riots. Apparently, there's a bunch of civil unrest going on due to race and class, which makes our protagonists quickly interesting since they're all Middle-Eastern in some capacity. It also makes their struggle with the Neo-Nazis believable, since it's obvious these two group of people would never get along for an reason. However, the backdrop just happens to be an afterthought for much of the film. The Nazis are not responsible for the riots, so this political and social angle doesn't apply to the main plotline. The only time we hear about the riots is when the characters watch television or play the radio, which is not very often at all. I think it does make the issue between the opposite sides a bit more effective since the riots are about race, but the backdrop could have really brought about a nice commentary about race and class differences that could have easily made this film stand out more than it actually does. As a matter of fact, if you take away the backdrop, FRONTIER(S) wouldn't change all that much as a film except shortening the running time. Talk about a lost opportunity.
The race issue is also flawed due to the Nazis themselves. The father of the family wants to impregnate Yasmine [before he finds out she's already pregnant] to keep his family going. The problem with this is that the "pure blood" spiel the man and the rest of the family seem to hold in such high regard makes that plan unbelievably flawed. I really doubt that any Nazi would want to procreate with a person who is not "pure", since breeding someone who isn't considered "perfect" would go against their code of honor. Maybe they were desperate to keep the family growing, so they decided to take in anyone, I don't know. But it really doesn't make sense and it's never really explained why this family is so focused on making Yasmine part of the family. Impregnate her? Maybe. But make her one of them, knowing she doesn't fit in their portrait of perfection? I don't really buy it. And it's not really explained either, which doesn't help.
Also it's kind of hard to make your characters likeable when they start acting like assholes at the beginning of the film. For one, they stole money from somewhere, apparently for Yasmine's abortion [an angle that's strangely dropped for 75 percent of the film]. Then they argue for minutes to the point that it gets somewhat annoying. Then they end up doing stupid things that makes me want to walk inside the television and kick them in the balls for being idiots. At least Yasmine and Farid are developed enough to root for. Yasmine is established as the Final Girl of the film - a character who is pregnant by someone who seems to want nothing to do with her [even though he does but won't admit it], her brother is shot and killed, and ends up being tortured by Nazis to assimilate her into their family. Farid, on the other hand, seems to be the moral center of the group. He won't sleep with any of those Nazi sluts because he has a girlfriend [which I'm not sure is true or not] and is actually active in terms of trying to save his friends and trying to escape. The other members of their group are too selfish for their own good, even though Alex changes due to circumstance, so it's easy to see why they would become victims. Hell, I thought the villains had a ton more personality than our "heroes". The father had a real presence of power. The sibling rivalry between the children for who would claim their father's throne was interesting. And they all had different characters where you could tell them apart. Is it bad that I wanted the villains to succeed here? No, I'm not a Nazi. I just like colorful characters, and the protagonists were anything but.
What really makes the film work is the brutality. There is a lot of blood and gore in FRONTIER(S), which helps differentiate from other films following the same type of storyline. The buzzsaw scene is pretty gruesome. We have someone getting hung by hooks through their ankles in a vicious visual. People get cut open. People get stabbed and shot. Fingers get chopped off. There's also a very memorable scene where one character gets burnt to death in a steam room as his face melts. There's a lot of violence similar to stuff we have seen in torture porn films. But it works and actually enhances the story. I thought the SFX and make up teams did a really good job here.
Xavier Gens definitely directs a better film in FRONTIER(S) than he would later with HITMAN. His visual style is very energetic and enthusiastic. There's a lot of shaky cam during the more action-filled scenes, which actually enhance the viewing experience rather than it causing a distraction. The colors are vibrant and the editing is very solid. He also brings a ton of tension and suspense to the film, especially during the final act and during a scene that could have been taking out of THE DESCENT where Farid encounters people inside a mine in night vision from his camera. The soundtrack is also very solid and really captures the oppressive feel of the movie. FRONTIER(S) is nothing we haven't seen before, but Gens still manages to direct a fine film here.
The acting stands out in FRONTIER(S). All the actors are great in their roles, but Karina Tests was the highlight as Yasmine. I really bought every emotion she put into her character, from being distraught, to being scared, to being confused, and finally to being angry and determined to make these Nazis pay. It's a really great performance that deserves a look. Chems Dahmani as Farid was also pretty solid, as well as the actors playing the family of Nazis. I truly believed these actors believed in the situation they were going through. That's some fine work right there.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE CHOOSING TRUE BLOOD OVER PURE BLOOD
- The female lead character is named Yas and she's pregnant. For someone named after a contraceptive for birth control, she sure didn't live up to it!
- Don't trust women who force you into sex. They're either diseased whores, serial killers who use their sexuality, or actually men posing as women. Either way, there's gonna be blood in your urine.
- One of the Nazis called Farid a "half-breed" due to his ethnicity. That's all he's ever heard. That's how he learned to hate the word. Both sides were against him since the day he was born.
- Yas and Alex tried to pull the chains off the wall to free themselves. Unless they're Dokken, they're probably wasting their time.
- There was a ton of arguing and violence during the family dinner. Who said that a Nazi cannibalistic family wasn't normal?
THE FINAL HOWL
While I find other modern French horror films to be better than FRONTIER(S), the movie is still worth a watch to see how a French director takes an American horror premise and gives it a foreign flavor. The acting, direction, and the brutality are highlights, while the narrative leaves a bit more to be desired. Not the most original horror film out there, but at least it's made well and it's entertaining for the most part, even if a bit a depth could have truly had FRONTIER(S) live up to its potential.
3 Howls Outta 4