Thursday, July 1, 2010

FRONTIER(S) (2007) Movie Review


While Paris riots in the aftermath of a political election, a group of young friends pull off a daring heist and escape from the city in two cars to look for a place to lie low. They are separated during their escape, and the first car with Tom and Farid come across a secluded hostel where they spend the night. The pair find themselves way over their heads though, when they learn the hard way that the keepers of this inn are a family of psychotic cannibals. Though they try to make a getaway, they are overpowered and soon become the first, but not last, victims of the evening.

When Yasmine and Alex finally arrive at the hostel, they are incarcerated by the family and it seems their fates lie with Tom and Farid. But when the family discovers that Yasmine is pregnant, they decide in their twisted logic to make her the newest member of the family, so that they will have an heir to carry on their sadistic rituals and traditions. Yasmine, who in only a few short hours has been driven to the brink of insanity, makes a desperate attempt to fight back, but what chance will her new found survival instincts have against a savage family in the middle of nowhere?

If you’ve ever wondered to yourself after taking in a viewing of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE “that was great, but it would be even better if it were in French” then wonder no more. Director and writer Xavier Gens’ feature-length debut, which has been described as France’s answer to HOSTEL and SAW, owes much more in story and attitude to Tobe Hooper’s survival horror classic then the recent string of “torture porn” horror movies that have plagued this decade. Though to be certain, Gens’ execution of on-screen violence is much more in tune with Eli Roth’s gallons-of-gore approach rather than Hooper’s reliance on imagination to fill in the blanks.

Much like Hooper, Roth, and many others in between, Gens is determined to put his characters through sheer and absolute hell, and wants to make sure you are there for every painful second. Employing plenty of documentary-style and shaky-cam cinematography, as well as some rapid and jangly editing to heighten the fear and disorientation, Gens sticks tightly to his main characters as he follows their descent through insanity and toward their ultimate fate. Gens, much like many of his contemporary horror colleagues, coats everything with a slimy grime to give it that now standard gritty feel. And it all feels so derivative, like a grocery list with all the exact items needed to guarantee a familiar meal, without experimenting with the recipe.

What does make the film stand out is the performance by lead actress Karina Testa as Yasmine. This is Testa’s first horror role, after starring in several French comedies and dramas, and comes out with a home run swing. Her dedication to the craft of screaming and looking good while drenched in fake blood should ensure her return to horror in the very near future, and she makes a welcome addition to the elite stable of the “final girl”.

But what about the relentless violence? Does it do justice to the hype that has been building up since the movie showed at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2007? Gorehounds, rest assured that you will be quite satisfied in what Gens brings to the table, even if most of it feels like it has been seen before. There is plenty of unrestricted bloodletting and vicious effects galore to be had as the film makes its way toward its finale. And almost all of it is classic in-camera physical effects that have been carefully crafted. Of particular note to wait for is a sequence that could have almost been lifted from MEN BEHIND THE SUN, and an incident with a table saw that would make HAUTE TENSION's Marie proud.

While there really is nothing new to be had with FRONTIER(S), it does successfully manipulate the defined variables of the survival horror genre, and keeps France on the radar as a source for some twisted entertainment. And Gens does provide a slice of pleasing entertainment, providing your definition of entertainment is four twenty-somethings being decimated by a family of inbred Nazi cannibals with a flare for giving sermons.


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