Saturday, September 24, 2011

European Horror Month Part 4: Frontiere(s)

Nazi Dinner Party

I'm getting jaded, I'll admit. When I first become a father, I laid off of horror movies for a long while-the better part of a decade, in fact. After years of worshipping Stephen King and Clive Barker, and witnessing all manner of deviant violence and terror, there was something about having a tiny life to protect that made screen violence too disturbing. Now that I often want to kill my children myself, with my bare hands, I've returned to horror in a big way. I've been thrilled with the direction horror has taken, and through a bunch of awesome horror bloggers, I have been introduced to the finest films the genre has to offer. Upon my initial return to horror, I watched so many great, genuinely scary movies that I kind of forgot that there are, and have always been, so many bad or just plain forgettable horror flicks out there. While I end up liking most of the horror movies I watch, it's becoming rare to find one that makes me so much as cringe.

Of course, all of this is to say that Xavier Gens's Frontiere(s) is something pretty special. This was my second viewing of the film, and I found that it didn't lose any of its potency the second time around. In fact, I liked it better and found myself cringing, shouting, groaning, and laughing in the face of extreme violence every couple of minutes. Despite the film's serious tone, it is a bloody good time.
 I should offer the disclaimer that Frontiere(s) isn't a particularly original film. Instead it wears its influences on its proverbial sleeve. You've got dashes of Hostel and The Descent sprinkled atop a huge platter of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What makes this movie work is the way all the influences are synthesized into a cohesive and compelling whole.

The plot centers around 5 twenty-somethings from the Paris slums who take advantage of a riot sparked by the election of an extreme right government, pulling off some offscreen heist and fleeing town. As can be expected with any trip into the boonies, they encounter a family of weirdos who put them up for the night, then begin to kill them one by one. Pretty standard stuff, but standard stuff done extremely well.

Being hoodlums, most of the characters aren't immediately likable. There's Yasmine, who is the narrator and main character. She is 3 months pregnant with a baby she doesn't plan to keep. When we meet her, she is fleeing the crime scene with her brother, Sami, who has been shot and will die within the first ten minutes of the film. We sympathize with Yasmine because she's a pretty girl, she's pregnant, and she's just lost a brother. Other than that, we never learn much about her.

Another forced haircut. Must be a French thing.
 The other sympathetic character is Farid, a soft-spoken Muslim who plans to give up his life of crime and be a responsible adult for his mother's sake. He also refuses sex with local whores out of love for his girlfriend. He seems a little too nice to be caught up with this crew, but then, I can understand his wanting to rebel against society. He's lives in the slums and is Muslim, who are basically treated like shit in France (not claiming the U.S. is any better, BTW).  

Farid realizes he left his wallet in El Segundo.
The other two hoodlums are Alex and Tom. When we first meet Alex, he is stopped by a cop at gunpoint, but doesn't back down. He takes the cop's gun and beats him with it. He's a total badass, but you have to question his sanity, because you can tell he really wanted to kill that cop. He's also Yasmine's ex and the one who knocked her up. And while he's half-crazy and comes off as pretty heartless, he's a confident, take-charge kind of guy, and he's good-looking and charismatic guy, so you have to like him a little bit. By the end of the movie, he's actually pretty sympathetic.

Alex in Chains
Tom is a douche. No getting around it. But again, he's good-looking and charismatic so you end up liking him just a little bit, and may even feel a bit of sympathy when he's paralyzed with claustrophobia or being tortured by deranged remnant Nazis.

Tom Auditioning for The Descent 3
The thing about Frontiere(s) that makes me giggle with delight is its stomach-turning violence. While it might not be enough to impress the hardcore gore-hounds, it is certainly too much for the squeamish, and just about right for me. While you've got your Hostel-style Achilles tendon-cutting, you've also got stuff I haven't seen before, like a major character getting steamed to death. Anyone who's suffered a steam burn will squirm through this scene.

The steam room, but not the relaxing kind.
The other impressive accomplishment of the film is that in addition to being a showcase for gore, there is an emotional core to the film. Imagine if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a character who wasn't completely bat-shit insane on account of having been adopted. They have been raised in an insane environment and taken part in casual slaughter, but become aware that their actions are wrong when they identify with one of the potential victims. That is basically the character of Eva in Frontier(s).

God, my family is so embarrassing!
Beyond that, there is a complex relationship between Yasmine and Alex, and when the shit starts raining down from heaven, they discover their true feelings for one another. Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but it works in this film.

 Frontiere(s) is certainly the best film put out under the After Dark Horrorfest brand, and if I were writing my Top Ten Horror Movies of the Past Ten Years today, I'd probably bump something to make room.

Hey, I think I see what your foot is caught on.

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