Once again, France proves it's the capital of horror movies. Xavier Gens' "Frontier(s)" is an unsettling, thrilling and politically charged fear film that deserves a place on every self respecting horror fan's "must watch" list. It's a triumph, plain and simple.
Originally slated to be a part of last year's Horrorfest (the annual Lionsgate fest of horror films that plays cineplexes around the country), it managed to get its own separate release it was simply so good. And like "Inside" and "Them," it's a horror movie that pulls no punches. Interestingly, it's also set in the midst of the French riots, something that provided a backdrop to "Inside."
The film opens with the riots taking place and a group of young Arab people taking advantage of the riots to stage a hesit. When the robbery goes wrong, they split up and head out of town. Keeping in touch via cell phone, they decide to meet up at a hostel miles away from the city.
The hostel two of the men find is run by two strangely sexy women and their weird brothers. The two guys naturally get laid. But when one of the brothers shows up and confronts the men for having sex with his sisters, things get very weird. The young robbers are attacked and, running for their lives, realize they have gone from a very bad situation in the inner city to a much worse one in the French countryside. This family is apparently psychotic. In one of the film's most chilling scenes, the two attempt to get away by crawling through an ultra-tight cavern -- a scene reminiscent of the claustrophobic horrors of "The Descent." Referring to one of the victims as a "rag head," we realize there's a racial component to the victimization.
Things keep getting worse as their other two friends arrive. Once the near-dead body of their comrade is discovered hanging by his feet, the two remaining survivors are chained in a farmhouse along with the family's pigs. We learn that the family is, in fact, led by a surviving Nazi war criminal. And, yes, they're cannibals. Despite her lack of aryan blood, the family plans to make one of their new kidnappees (Karina Testa) an honorary family member -- and put her unborn child to some kind of use.
"Frontier(s)" has obvious similarities to "Hostel," but it's much more inspired by "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," with a family of lunatics killing off a bunch of young folks, then having the surviving female over for a psychotic dinner. Gens, who also directed the action film "Hitman," infuses the film with brutal gunplay. The film's last third climaxes in the most gut-wrenching gun battle I've ever seen.
What I liked best about "Frontiers," however, has to be the film's political edge. There are references to fascism early on during news reports about the riots -- and obvious digs at Sarkozy. What we're seeing in the right-wing reaction to the riots is just simple hate. That hate expresses itself in truest form with the sick, cannibal, Nazi family. In one scene, the Nazi patriarch cuts the achilles tendons of one of his victims and explains that's how they kept workers in line in South African mines to prevent them from running away. "So they could work in peace."
The film reminds us that the horrors we are witnessing onscreens are things that have happened -- and really do happen. It's the whites subjugating the browns -- and taking sadistic pleasure out of the pain they're causing -- and here's what it looks like up close. Despite all its primal brutality, "Frontier(s)" is a deep, intelligent and very political movie. As shockingly sadistic as what we're watching seems to be, it's not far off from what we saw at Abu Ghairab or -- as the chief villain tells us -- mines in South Africa.
That's not to say the film's story is very realistic. The family has a freezer full of dozens of dead bodies. Like "Hostel," you figure at some point a cop somewhere would notice so many people missing -- and trace it to the hostel in question. But, in the end, it's just a horror movie.
Well not just any horror movie. Like a number of other French fear films released this year, "Frontier(s)" is easily one of the best horror films of recent years. You have to hand it to the French these days. They're cranking out the very best stuff.