5/19/09

Terrifying Tuesday: Frontière(s)

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.

The Bugg Speaks

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.





Bugg Rating
 


7 comments:

  1. It isn't in the same league as some of the other French horror movies of late, but I enjoyed it more than some of the others. Although on the surface it has a dark tone, I felt it had more of an old school horror, "fun" feel to it (as sick as that may sound).

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  2. I quite enjoyed this one, but much of my enjoyment stemmed from what you got spot on, the political backbone to the nazi aspects of the story. It is a film that is steeped fairly heavily in modern French politics, but it can be enjoyed without much knowledge of this. In terms of violence, it was never going to live up to the 'most brutal film everrrrrrr' reviews out there, but it defo had a nice mean streak, especially if you enjoy seeing pretty young girls being battered beyond belief.

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  3. pretty good review, although I liked it even less than you did - especially the political background stuff is fairly weak (definitely not directed at Sarkozy btw. seeing when this was made. I should also add that cannibalism as a methaphor for a government eating away our freedoms doesn't really make much sense to me and that the institutionalised racism debatte does exist in France, but this is at best an annoyingly oversimplification, comparable to some radical group reducing gang violence and inner-city problems in the States to the WASP establishment keeping all minorities down by whatever means possible - I might be overly sensitive here, but I find this sort of interpretation coming from a non-French person as annoying as those guys who feel they have to lecture Americans on Vietnam or guns) and doesn't really add to the movie.

    Got to say though that being a nazi definitely seems to have its advantages, the head of the family must be in his (late) 80s and still seems to be in pretty good shape.

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  4. Thanks Metalhead and Rev for the comment.

    Now onto the sticky situation I got myself in here. I stepped out on a limb bringing in the political subtext of the film. As a non European, I was taking a stab in the dark, and it looks like i got a mixed reaction. Johnny, who i know to be a Brit, seems to think there was something viable in what I said while Anonymous (why do people with interesting things to say always hide their identity?) tends to disagree.

    I'm not going to defend my thoughts. They are what they are. Some of them may have been off base. What raises this film from being just rote slasher flick is the subtext that can spark debate as it did here. This reason alone makes the film more worth watching.

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  5. Woah there horsey! I'm Irish, calling me a Brit is like using the N word around Compton, dat shit don't fly:-)

    Anyway, I must say, I saw this film on it's release, so my memory is probably shakier than anonymous, but what you said seemed fair ball to me. I would need to brush up on both my French politics and this movie to have a serious further debate, but as you said, there is something there that warrants mentioning.

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  6. My apologies Johnny. I knew that I just wasn't thinking. This is the second time today as I asked an Aussie if he was from New Zeland. yeah, barely escaped with my skin.

    thanks for the follow up and I'll make sure I get my countries of origin straight in the future.

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