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Frontier(s)

tn_frontiersFrontier(s) is kind of a 2000s French take on THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. It takes place when an extreme right winger has been elected President, sparking riots across the Paris suburbs (which is English for French for “the hood”). Our protagonists are 5 kids who tried to take advantage of the chaos to do a robbery, but one of them got shot. They split up, and two of them take the wounded guy to the hospital while the other two head out to the booney(s) to hide out. Those two get to a small inn and try to get the two girls at the desk to, you know, enjoy the room with them. And things get ugly pretty quick after that.

There’s definitely some HOSTEL in here too, what with it being a hostel, and some horny dudes trying to get laid, and hot scary ladies luring them in to be dragged to a filthy warehouse type place where they’ll be worked over by various sizes of sweaty maniacs in aprons and rubber gloves. But I say it’s more TEXAS CHAIN SAW in substance because they’re a family of cannibals and it has that same idea of an ancient asshole (Jean-Pierre Jorris) still alive and forcing his backwards ways on the next generation. In this case he’s not zombie-like Grandpa, he’s still lucid and very much in charge, and he’s an escaped Nazi war criminal who now kidnaps girls as “wives” for the young butchers he calls his sons, trying to keep his “pure race” going.

mp_frontiersLike TEXAS CHAIN SAW (original but not remake) there’s a forced family dinner. The family dynamic is interesting because these characters who have been terrorizing the kids get scared when their “father” comes in the room. The ladies from the front desk violently stoke the fire so it looks like they’re working (or maybe so the room is at just the temperature he likes it), another helpfully tells their kidnap victim Yasmine (Karina Testa) to sit up straight, because he hates it when they slump.

Father announces that he’s decided to pass on leadership of the family to “the only son I’m proud of,” then complaints about how much the other sons suck, and they have to just sit there and take it. It’s very true to life, the subserviance and even loyalty to a horribly abusive asshole. They’re terrified of him but if they make him happy it will be a big accomplishment, so they keep trying desperately. It’s true, you get attached to these people that aren’t really good to you, and you do things you shouldn’t. Farid let his dumb friend drag him into cheating on his girlfriend, these guys let their Nazi father figure drag them into kidnapping, murdering and cannibalism.

The action is shot too chaotic, but it’s mostly readable. The most effective sequence to me involves two of them trying to escape by crawling through some kind of pipe or sewer that they barely fit through. The guy in front is having trouble moving on, and the idea of getting trapped behind him is real upsetting, I think. I’m against it.

The scariest character is definitely the father, not so much physically as psychologically. There’s something about his petty cruelty to his kids that makes him not just horror-villain-scary but really ring true as the type of toxic person you would hate to be around in real life even if they weren’t a Nazi, a cannibal or a kidnapper.

I also thought Gilberte (Estelle Lefébure) was interesting, she’s very good looking but looks more mature and physically capable than your standard Hollywood good looking woman. So she’s intimidating to these kids even when they’re just trying to fuck her and don’t know she’s trying to kill them.

But then there’s Eva (Maud Forget). She looks like a young, hunchback Helena Bonham Carter. She seems like the most conflicted member of the family (like Ruby in THE HILLS HAVE EYES), so she follows the rules but secretly tries to console Yasmine and tell her she’s pretty and stuff. Unfortunately her solution to forced pregnancy is to soothe herself by drinking jugs of very potent moonshine. And this may have had results you’d expect, based on what she says about her kids.

Yasmine is the Final Girl, something that’s missing in some of these modern horrors. I don’t know why but it never feels as satisfying to see some dude running away at the end. Call me old fashioned. (usually when you say “call me old fashioned” it’s sarcastic, but in this instance I am sincerely asking you to call me old fashioned.) It’s important to note that she’s pregnant. And she’s not just protecting her baby’s life, she’s protecting it from being given to this family, to become one of them. Just as the rioters don’t want the extreme right wing president to change France, she doesn’t want this way, way more extreme right wing guy to turn her child into one of his family. So it’s TEXAS CHAIN SAW but there’s more at stake, at least symbolically: their lives, but also the country, and the next generation.

And here is this asshole keeping alive the shitty old ways. The men fight each other for power, the women use their sexuality and housekeeping skills to serve him. I guess Gilberte does rank higher than some of the men in the family, that’s fair, and somewhat progressive. But Klaudia (Amélie Dore) and Eva don’t get shit. Eva, the only one who sees what a shitty way of life it is, sees no way out and just tries to medicate her way through it.

I also like that the movie poses a conflict between (sub)urban dwellers and rural types. Back at home the powers that be see kids like this as the troublemakers. And admittedly they did that robbery, that was bad. But shit, have you seen what they’re doing out in the frontier(s)? Cut these LA HAINE type kids some slack, at least they don’t have a meat locker full of people. They’re good kids.

There are plenty of other TEXAS CHAIN SAW parallels besides the ones I mentioned, and it ends up with an excellent remix of the classic hysterical-blood-covered-survivor-stumbles-back-into-civilization bit. She looks like she’s just been put through the ringer and then put back through the ringer and then shook off and then run through a couple more times just to be sure. The cops stop her and they might be there to arrest her for involvement in the robbery but when they see her who knows what they’re thinking? I mean, shit.

I would say FRONTIER(S) is quite good(ish). It’s fairly derivative and I prefer the classic style of the movies that it’s derived from. But it also pulled me by the hair through a pretty good thrill ride, and I feel that it respects the classics by investing their tropes with modern relevance. It’s definitely better than I would expect from director Xavier Gens based on that movie HITMAN where Timothy Olyphant played a religious hitman who probly regretted having to shave his head, because it didn’t suit him. But reportedly that was taken away from him for being too violent and they re-edited it and did reshoots without him. If those reshoots were all the parts that showed Olyphant’s head then that might exonerate M. Gens.

I don’t think all horror movies have to be “about” something, but it’s nice when they are, and kinda rare these days. Some people might mistake it for a “man, check out how fucked up this is” movie, but it’s got more to it. It works on two level(s).

(If somebody could explain the parentheses thing to me I’d appreciate it. My only guess was that the French title was a word with two meaning, ‘frontier’ and ‘frontiers,’ and it was hard to translate. But the French title is FRONTIÈRE(S), parentheses and all, so I don’t know.)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, October 6th, 2011 at 1:53 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

38 Responses to “Frontier(s)”

  1. I wonder if his version of Hitman was actually good?

  2. Good movie. I liked the political subtext they added, making it much, much better that other Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-offs like House of 1000 Corpses or the Texas Chainsaw remake.

    I think that the (s) could mean that there are two titles: frontier, where the action takes place; frontieres as an allegory to the political subtext of the movie.

  3. Timothy Olyphant, the man with the best head of hair in Hollywood, should never be forced to shave it. I knew the movie wouldn’t be any good just from that.

    Might check this one out though, sounds pretty interesting. Hoping they don’t go too much into what the critics like to call the whole “torture porn” thing though.

  4. I recently watched this again and it did not hold up quite as well on a second viewing. I will agree that it is still better than most of the tripe that is labeled horror in these days. I did like the fact that Samuel Le Bihan (sp?) was in this. He was the scientist fellow in Brotherhood of the Wolves that seemed like a pussy until the baddies disposed of Dascascos and then he reveals himself as the ultimate badass.

  5. I didn’t care for this one at all. It’s one of those movies that feel like a long trailer. Just a bunch of rehashed situations grittied up for the kids. I honestly had a hard time paying attention after the first hour, and then it kept going and going. It just turned into noise after a while.

    I’m glad you got something out of it, though, Vern, because for the life of me I couldn’t figure out just what the fuck the riots and shit had to do with the plot of the movie. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to rip off FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (I’m pretty sick of the “criminals pull a job but accidentally hole up in a horror movie” idea at this point. Seems to do a disservice to both the crime and horror genres nine times outta ten) or if the filmmakers had just read a couple of books so they’d heard that TEXAS CHAINSAW was “about” Vietnam so they figured they had to make their movie “about” something too, even though they had nothing to say. Your interpretation makes that whole aspect of the movie make a lot more sense.

    IN(S)IDE is about a million times better. But MARTYR(S) still wears the crown for French fuckedupedness.

  6. Also, as far as I’m concerned Olyphant’s head is naturally shaped like a cowboy hat.

  7. I don’t really remember anything about this film, despite seeing it less than year ago. I recall it was quite well made, but just awfully generic with nothing interesting or distinctive going on. I also recall that on the later half it just got kinda boring.

  8. Jareth Cutestory

    October 6th, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I’d add ILS (aka THEM) to the list of good ones too, better, I think, than INSIDE but not as good as CALVAIRE or MARTYRS. ILS survived being blantantly hijacked by THE STRANGERS.

  9. I really can’t think of a second meaning to the French title. I think it’s just that since EN AVOIR (OU PAS) in 1995, for some reason some French directors just think it’s cool to add unnecessary parenthesis to their movie titles: COMMENT JE ME SUIS DISPUTE… (MA VIE SEXUELLE), BANCS PUBLICS (VERSAILLES RIVE-DROITE) or CLUBBED TO DEATH (LOLA). You guys have “cool” titles with a capital X instead of the syllable “ex”, or a Z to replace an S, or accentuated Ks and whatnot. We have unnecessary ().

  10. Maybe it’s just being vague as to whether there are one or more frontiers.

  11. Maybe it’s just a stupid title.

  12. Nabroleon Dynamite

    October 6th, 2011 at 10:54 am

    @Mr Majestyk. Let’s do business fam!! KGKG9@Hotmail.com. Do you have Cronenberg’s “Shivers”?

    I need to check this Frontier(s) shit out though. I missed this one.

    INSIDE is definitely defecating on your microphone Vern!!

    Review dat shit!!

  13. Vern- you’re old fashioned.

  14. I do indeed have SHIVERS, Nabroseph. Anything else you want? You get three movies before the shipping goes up. I’ll shoot you a list.

    Capitalism is awesome.

  15. I think that act 2 of this film is spectacular. The cross cutting between 4 separate set-pieces, each with its own gory punch line worked very well for me. And the scene in the steam room was one of the most distrubing moments in recent cinema history.

  16. I got about 20 minutes into this movie and turned it off because clipping my toenails became more of a priority (not a good sign). If it gets better later on in the movie I’ll be willing to give it another shot but like many of the 8 Films to Die For movies I’ve seen I’m guessing it’s okay at best.

    I’ve heard that Frontier(s) is one of the better ones of the 8 Films to Die For movies but that’s like saying Transformers 3 was the best of Bay’s Transformers movies. Not necessarily high praise.

  17. Well, it depends on how fucked up your toenails were, though.

  18. I loved parts of this movie, but it never completely gelled for me on the whole. ILS was kind of the same way. They entertained me, but I didn’t get totally behind them like with INSIDE and MARTYRS. The king of French Fuckeduppedness is still CALVAIRE, in my opinion. It’s just so fucking bizarre. Kind of like dropping acid while visiting your weird old uncle who has a collection of old teeth in dusty jars on the bookshelf. It’s disturbing, is what I’m getting at.

  19. Never seen this but I’ll chime in on Hitman. For a mediocre movie its pretty good. It doesn’t do anything particularly great but for some reason i’ve revisited it many times. Unfortunately they somehow completely sapped all of the charisma from Mr. Olyphant which I thought was impossible but apparently it is not. Still, the combination of Dougray Scott and Mr. Olyphant carries the movie. Olga Kurylenko does a good job as the sympathetic hooker (and she’s naked which is a plus). I guess the best compliment I can give it is its easy to watch. Kind of a “surf the net while occasionally paying attention” type movie.

  20. I have to fall into the INSIDE camp. It may not have the social subtext of MARTYRS or FRONTIER(S) but the primal battle between the two women is lean and mean enough to make up for it. It’s like the Tony/Ralphie fight from The Sopranos spread out over an entire movie.

    CALVAIRE got a little too over the top for my taste, and after awhile there just wasn’t enough a point to keep me interested. The people in the town doing the penguin dance was way more creepy and deranged then any of the many, many, rapes and the filmmakers nver seemed to figure out that that was more of the type of stuff they needed to be doing.

  21. ThomasCrown442 – for further evidence of the very real possibility of olyphant-charisma-sapping see the last die hard movie. that and HITMAN are the only two examples i know of, though. it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor that was in DEADWOOD. or PERFECT GETAWAY. or JUSTIFIED. or GO. or fucking THE GIRL NEXT DOOR even.

  22. Jareth Cutestory

    October 7th, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Olyphant really played against type in HIGH TIMES as well.

  23. Thought it was crap. Just loud, dirty, ugly, disgusting just to be disgusting, but no real suspense.

  24. When I watched Hitman, I wanted Olyphant to get a disguise, something like a full head of hair or a ten gallon hat. Hell, I’d of even been happy if he taped on a Seth Bullock mustache.

  25. The point of him being bald in the games supposedly is that it means he CAN adopt different disguises on top of his blank frame. Sort of an assassin Mr. Potatohead. The game was actually a bit of a puzzle one in that sense as you had to observe your surroundings and take advantage of what was going on in order to figure out the best way to take out your targets, including killing off staff and guards to use their uniforms themselves. He’s also meant to have been genetically engineered using the dna of a 4 gangsters of individual ethnicity so that his own appearance is enough of a cross of the four he can blend into most places he’s working. It’s better in theory than execution, as he’s just a creepy looking bald caucasian in general, but at least the baldness suits him in the games.

  26. Olyphant has car sales man teeth too, was that part of the deal to make the perfect hitman? My best pal is bald, he did the suit and barcode on the back of his head for fancy dress once. He looked like he’d just come straight from work (and someone had drawn a barcode on his head).

  27. Olyphant is great in Rango as The Spirit of The West. The line “no man can leave his own story” is one I plan on using on real people, not just my pet dog.

  28. Virgin Gary – nice to see that people around here “get” Olyphant. His performance in “Go” is one of the best things about that film (and it’s pretty underrated generally.)

  29. I’m sorry but you guys are going to have to clarify your taste in French Horror.

    Martyrs and Calvaire good, but Frontier(s) bad? Martyrs and Frontier(s) have social subtext?

    Ils, Frontier(s), and Inside are clearly the lean-and-mean side of French horror. They take a simple premise and don’t try to complicate it with any artistic wrinkles. They work because they believe in the raw power of suspense, of the cat-and-mouse chase, etc. Frontier(s) has this operatic ending where the Final Girl throws her head back and roars in slow motion, it could not be more simple and archetypal. It delivers the goods. The “point” of it is the same point of any satisfying horror film: watch somebody go through a struggle and hopefully succeed. What is difficult to relate to about this film?

    Haute Tension could have easily sat among them if not for it’s stupid twist. The scene in the farmhouse is legendary.

    Then there’s Sheitan and Calvaire. Dude, Calvaire was such an empty film. Half an hour of content parlayed to 1.5 hours of screentime through sheer force of pretentiousness. Maybe it’s critical that women get endangered in these films for them to work for me, I dunno. At least, you should feel SOME sympathy for the victim, and not hate them but feel sorry for the antagonist? “Dude let’s make a movie where there’s this village, and everybody in the village has this trait where they want to kidnap a person/animal and pretend they are a different person/animal! Wouldn’t that be TERRIFYING?”

    Sheitan is similar only in that it’s a genuinely bad film, but it entertained me much more than Calvaire. It had, at least, one fantastic scene (the one in the hot springs…totally outlandish and unique). The biggest problem was that they utterly mucked up the Turning Point where the bad guy finally shows their true colors etc. Also they are pretty clear that a certain character is actual Satan themselves, but then never give you any payoff. It’s all about how this guy made a deal with the devil and has to give the devil his child when it is born, but this is only peripherally related to the victims, who are targeted by the dealmaker because ….. he’s building a scary doll for the Satanbaby and wants the doll to have real human eyes???

  30. Just watched it. I guess the “(S)” thing in the title is because it takes place near the French Belgian border, so that’s the “FRONTIERE” part, but also to get there the kids crossed the “psychological” border that separates “the hood” from the rest of France so that’s a second “FRONTIERE”, but since it’s only virtual, instead of FRONTIERES, it’s FRONTIERE(S). Or something.

    ANYWAY.

    I thought the movie was okay. I thought Estelle Lefébure was pretty laughable though. And the kid playing Alex is really bad. But coming from the director of HITMAN, the movie was a pleasant surprise.

  31. Fuck the haters. Frontier(s) rules and is very entertaining, interesting, compelling and suspenseful. Sure it may not be the most original film in the world but at least it’s way better than that crappy Saw rip-off Steel Trap. Here is a difference between Frontier(s) and Steel Trap
    Frontier(s) plot: Frontier(s) has an amazing plot despite it being cliche stays on the right side of horror.
    Steel Trap: Crap plot that reminds us that it’s a Saw Rip-off.
    Characters:
    Frontier(s) characters: The characters are all awesome, interesting, likeable and important to the story and you actually care what happens to the protagnists and want to fight the villains yourselves. Also, the cast are all excellent.
    Steel Trap characters: The characters are annoying and unlikeable with the exception of Kathy King (the film’s killer). The cast is pretty bad though not the worst but still though Georgia MacKenzie was good as Kathy but the characters still suck.
    Frontier(s) Acting: Frontier(s) has amazing acting.
    Steel Trap Acting: The acting sucks.
    Frontier(s) Genre: Frontier(s) has lots of horrific moments that make it truly an adrenaline-fueled blood-gushing thrill ride. Lots of action and some genuine drama that will make you cry.
    Steel Trap Genre: Though a horror, it doesn’t have any suspense and half of it is the characters being assholes.
    This is how the underrated adrenaline-fueled blood gushing thrill ride Frontier(s) truly is whereas Steel Trap is crap. Com’on Luis Camara you can do better just like Xavier Gens. SO STOP SAYING BAD STUFF ABOUT FRONTIERS BECAUSE IT DOES NOT SUCK AT ALL.

  32. Suck it French Horror haters. Especially you, Blair Russell. Don’t listen to the haters. All these negative reviews are unnecessary, meaningless and overrated. French Horror Rulz. Go France :)

  33. I agree with the username above. All negative reviews of these films are meaningless, unnecessary and overrated. Don’t listen to the haters especially that Blair Russell Guy. BTW his review on Frontier(s) is an overrated aftermath of a car crash. Geez people who unnecessarily hate need to get some goddamned taste. I also worship people who know good horror like Mr. Maynard Morrisey The King of imdb posted horror bloggers. You go Bro.

  34. LOL Vern, you’re so funny. My favorite film of all time. I really wish there was a sequel because it deserves to be made and have one.

  35. NO SERIOUSLY WHAT THE EFF IS WITH THESE FRENCH HORROR PEOPLE I DONT EVEN

  36. If you don’t know who Blair Russell is, Blair Russell is a pathetic, hypocritical and whiny asshole who doesn’t know a good film. You’re way better his site is blairsmoviereviews.com go on it.

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