Review: Frontier(s)

I’ll accept it’s been a while now, and output has arguably slowed, but in their day the French had a bigger influence on horror modern horror than perhaps they are given recognition for. A cluster of films, of which this title forms a savage slice of the line-up, seemed to come out of left field and push the production values of extreme horror. Directors such as Alexandre Aja, Pascal Laugier, Julien Maury and of course ‘Frontier(s)’ director Xavier Gens released a series of bangers before going on to bigger more popular mainstream titles.

Fronteir(s) is no exception, with its vicious and violent Eurozone-tinged retelling of a Texas chainsaw style plotline. As Second Sight release this as a special edition, I was keen to see how it had stood the test of time.

Considering some of the films context is still extremely topical I’d say it remains (sadly) more than relevant over a decade after its initial release, and as a movie it’s a brutal as ever.

The film opens as Paris riots against a fictitious right-wing victory in the elections. As police and various ethnic groups hash it out in the various districts, a group of thieves, who, after fleeing the scene of a heist, take refuge in a hostel right on the boarder of France and Holland. Initially all seems ok, the women are loose, and the owners seem oblivious to the fact that they are clearly criminals on the run. However, unbeknownst to the group, they are also hard lined Nazis who have about as much respect for the mixed ethnicity of the group, as they do animals they mistreat on their farmstead. Once in, it’s clear that the one night stop over is just about to be extended.

At the time, Eli Roth’s Hostel was still haunting the mainstream and so I remember the buzz at the time likening it to that title, and given the setting, I get why, but on reflection its definitely closer to other slasher movies, such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as, look past the setting, and you’ll find plenty of typical tropes and random madness you’d find in any other ‘dysfunctional family’ style horror.

As simplistic as the plot is, the devil is in both the details, and the characterisation of the antagonists, (as with the Sawyers) rather than the protagonists. The Nazi’s are real Nazi’s, not thuggish skinheads. The father of the house, obviously an ex-SS commander, keeps the propaganda talk sensible and thick with ideology. It was scarily convincing. The location of the farmhouse, isolated and ruinous added to the believability of the story in that this group could exist, unhindered and unquestioned by anybody else.

As you’d expect, not everything is played feasible, I mean for one, there are some bizarre mutant children running around in the basement, and some characters take somewhat more killing than others, but the given the rather crass social and culturally sadistic mistreatment of the prisoners; there something more pensive and deliberate about the film’s crueller sequences.

The films frequent and bloody violence further bolsters this.

Being both graphic and brutal, the kill sequences in this movie really elevate this movie over the glossy and overly stylised kills found in mainstream horror at the time, and the effects look amazing. Naturally I’m not going to list the lot but just to give a flavour, one guy gets boiled alive in a steam room; there is some limb removal, some axe wielding, and circular saw dismemberment. To top it all off there’s even an over-the-top firefight featuring WW2 weaponry wielded by blood-soaked Aryan Blondes.

I wouldn’t say that the body count is huge, but the film overall seems to make a point of being cruel and malicious to its characters – on both sides – at any given opportunity, and given the films variety it certainly keeps you guessing as to what could possibly be coming next.

Overall, I’m not going to suggest ‘Fronteir(s)’ was written to offer some highbrow social commentary, but you can’t deny its relevance for todays society. There’s no doubt cultural disparity forces those on the wrong side of ‘welcome’ or well off to engage in risky behaviours, often finding themselves at the mercy of those who would choose to exploit them; although whether this happens on the Dutch boarder or not, I’ve no idea! But with that said, regardless, ‘Fronteir(s)’ offers a solid slice of extreme horror, flirting the line between high pace slasher and more visceral ‘exploitation’, it packs a punch however you look at it.

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