What is it about France lately? Well, I think I’m caught in the aftershock of watching Martyrs, and I feel the need to dig further into this new wave of French horror. When I was checking out some of the titles out there, I saw that this one had been banned in Thailand for its violence. Seriously? The land that gave us Muay Thai felt like this crossed the line? It sounded like a ringing endorsement to me. So I had to check out this film that was so far out on the….
Frontière(s) (2007) starring Karina Testa, Aurelien Welk, Samuel Le Bihan, and Patrick Ligardes. Directed by Xavier Gens.
When an election goes bad in France, rioting breaks out in the streets, and the right wing government tries to take control, a group of friends tries to escape the city, and they find refuge in a hostel in the country. Unfortunately, it is run by a family of cannibalistic Nazis who want the lone girl in the group, Yasmine (Testa), to join them and continue the bloodline.
One of the things I had heard before I saw this film was that it was, in essence, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I can’t say those commentators were incorrect. Unlike the nosy kids in TCM, this group walks willingly into the hostel, but then they are perused relentlessly by a hungry family which includes a large imposing looking fellow who is a butcher. That being said, I will admit there is a lot here that differs from the Tobe Hooper classic, but what left could be tracked down to other films in the genre. Other than the setting and political undertones, there is very little original here.
At its core, I believe Frontère(s) is intended to be commentary about the state of politics in France today. The hotel full of Nazis is a stand in for the right wing government of French president Nicholas Sarkozy. Their racism is pointedly directed against Muslims mirrors the institutionalized racism that many feel is inherit in France, and what better metaphor than cannibalism if you feel that your leaders are eating away at your freedoms. Now, not being French, this is entirely supposition on my part. I am however quite the news junky, and this is what I got from the film. I may well be wrong and looking too deep.
If I am correct, then this is a film that benefits from looking beyond the surface. The problem is that if you’re not familiar with the political climate in France, then this meaning could easily be lost. Without this metaphorical meaning, Frontière(s) suffers from a script that might be might on meaning, but low on plot. Once the kids arrive at the hostel, you get exactly what you’d expect. There’s gore a plenty, although nothing that really felt that extreme. There are killings as the characters get picked off one by one until, predictably, the last alive makes a desperate attempt to fight back and escape.
You may have noticed that the only character name I have mentioned was way back in the synopsis. That’s because Testa’s Yamine is the closest you get to a dynamic character in the film. Her friends are just more feed for the gristmill. The Nazis are just Nazis. After all, is there better shorthand in the history of the world for telling your audience someone is bad? While a few of the killers sport a unique look, none of them have the kind of iconic feeling that a movie that amounts to nothing more than a rote slasher needs to stand out.
It is a well made film. Director Gens, who also penned the script and cinematographer Laurent Bares create an oppressive atmosphere which matches the tone of both the action and the meaning of the film. I would love to say that this film shows promise from a new voice in film, but unfortunately, the duo followed this up with the incredibly underwhelming, bloated Hollywood affair known as Hitman(2008).
Frontière(s) is a film which had ambitions beyond the scope it could achieve. Instead, what they delivered on was a by the books feature that did not add anything to the genre. It was not as hyper violent as I had expected, and while it was thought provoking, it would only really work for their hometown audience or the rare gore fan who watches way too much MSNBC and reads Newsweek. It’s not a bad film, but it’s surely not a cut above.