By Chris Ward
It’s funny how every few years a different part of the world throws forth a slew of movies, usually of the horror/exploitation kind, and that these movies capture something about the region they are from in an attempt to offer something new to the genre. At the beginning of the decade we got the Japanese movies such as ‘The Ring’, ‘The Grudge’ and a myriad of copycats. Then we were treated to movies such as ‘Wolf Creek’ and ‘Storm Warning’ from Australia and ‘Black Sheep’ from New Zealand, none of which were particularly original in terms of stories but at least they offered a flavour of where they were from. Now it’s the turn of the French, and in the last couple of years we’ve been treated to such delights as ‘Inside’, ‘High Tension’ and this offering from writer/director Xavier Gens (Hitman).
‘Frontier(s)’ revolves around four young people who have fled a riot-torn Paris with a bag of cash, and are heading towards Amsterdam. After splitting up into two groups – Alex with his girlfriend Yasmine and Tom with Farid – the friends decide to meet at a secluded bed and breakfast near the French border. Tom and Farid arrive first, with the cash, and proceed to be seduced by Gilberte and Klaudia, the two women who work there. After a confrontation with the women’s ‘brother’, Karl, the two friends escape and get run off the road by Goetz, another of the clan, and then find themselves trapped in an underground mine under the property. While all this is going on, Alex and Yasmine arrive at the bed and breakfast, only to be told by Gilberte that their friends are at the motel down the road and that she’ll take them there. Soon after arriving there, Alex and Yasmine meet the rest of the ‘family’, including the patriarch Le Von Geisler, and realise that their hosts are fascist neo-Nazi cannibals intent on creating a superior race and having a large lunch. Meanwhile, Tom and Farid work their way through the mines and find themselves at the mercy of the family enforcer…
The first thing to note about ‘Frontier(s)’ is that it wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve. The obvious reference point is ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, but not just the original – it also borrows heavily from part three of the original series plus the Marcus Nispel remake. The overall style of the movie echoes the 2003 ‘…Chainsaw’ in looks, pacing and general atmosphere – presumably they used the same colour filters when they filmed it. There is a dinner scene reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s original, plus, obviously, the idea of the ‘family’. As with ‘…Chainsaw’, the relationships between the members is never made absolutely clear. As with Jeff Burr’s 1990 ‘…Chainsaw’ sequel, there just seems to be a group of similarly disfunctional people living together who refer to each other as ‘brother’, ‘sister’ or whatever. Not that it really matters what they’re called as there is a heavy incestuous overtone to most of their dealings. The movie also has elements of other ‘clan’ based movies such as ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and also more modern offerings like Rob Zombie’s ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ and ‘The Devil’s Rejects’, but it really is the ‘…Chainsaw’ influence that sticks out above all else. Not that this is a bad thing. After all, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best. But the movie really lets itself down by not expanding or adding to any of the ideas or conventions set by ‘…Chainsaw’, or indeed any other movie of that nature. There is a nagging feeling throughout that, despite the violence on offer, it really is a case of ‘seen it all before’.
Except maybe you haven’t. Although plotwise this is nothing new, the brutality shown in the movie really is exceptional. Once the characters have been established and the story starts to unravel the movie really pulls no punches in it’s relentlessness. It’s almost as if the makers want you to suffer the endurances that the characters have to go through – indeed, when you get to the end of the torment and the last survivor is revealed, you almost breathe a sigh of relief with the character on screen. Along with the ubiquitous beatings and shootings there’s boltcutters on the achilles tendon, an axe in the neck, being melted by steam, a rather gruesome but brilliant death by circular saw, crawling through pig faeces, getting showered in blood and explosions galore, so if gore is your thing then you’ll be well catered for. Unfortunately, as was the case with ‘Hostel’, just having scene after scene of relentless violence does not make a great movie. The one thing that the makers haven’t taken from ‘…Chainsaw’ is the underlying black humour that carries the characters along. What normally works great is like in ‘…Chainsaw 2’ when the serious goings on are offset by the sheer over-the-top lunacy of Leatherface and his family, or go the other way and have over-the-top situations being carried off by characters that are playing it completely straight, like in ‘Re-Animator’. But there is little or no light to go with the shade in ‘Frontier(s)’.
This isn’t to say that this is a bad movie. It’s just that it had the potential to be a whole lot more than just a French rehash of …’Chainsaw’, devoid of the quirkiness of the original series or the likeable characters and stylistic originality of the remake. The characters here, heroes and villains if you like, are all pretty horrible and it’s difficult to empathise with any of them. Le Von Geisler is incredibly vile, which is the point, but his rabid ‘family’ just seem to shout a lot and shoot guns. The relationship between Karl and Goetz is adhered to, as during the dinner scene when Von Geisler hands power of the group to Karl, with the line ‘The only son I’m proud of’, there is an obvious tension between the two of them, but this is never fully explored. The enforcer known as Hans has a crisis of conscience twice in the movie – once when executing one of the friends and also during the dinner scene when his feelings towards the outsiders and Von Geisler become apparent – and again, this is adhered to but never explained. In fact, the dinner scene, although crucial in the context it’s used, could have been even more developed to help add some background to the various characters. Instead, what starts out as a slight character development scene just turns into a lot of shouting and shooting, with little else. However, the violent scenes are realistic looking and well acted, as is the rest of the movie. There are, oddly, one or two pretensions to arthouse cinema in the direction and some of the camera work early in the movie is a little bit dubious, but this is splitting hairs.
Overall, the movie is well made, pacey and has scenes that will certainly remain in the memory long after you’ve seen it. It’s just that if you’re looking for something that deviates from the norm, that offers something different from scene after scene of running, screaming and shouting, and has that light and shade element to it’s narration that can make these types of movie so engaging, then there are better examples than this. Then again, if you’re not bothered by such trivialities, and just wish to see people being tortured and killed in all manner of ways then this could be just your thing.