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Ulises [Celluloid 05.06.08] movie review horror

Year: 2007
Release date: May 9th (limited theatrical), May 13th (DVD)
Director: Xavier Gens
Writer: Xavier Gens
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ulises Silva
Rating: 9 out of 10

Every country has its own boogey man. You get a really good sense of this when you venture beyond Hollywood and realize that, hey, maybe people in countries who’ve seen different real-life horrors (e.g., war, devastation, atomic bombing) have a different take on what constitutes cinematic horror. This is certainly the case in Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s), a French slasher film that combines familiar elements from films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel, with a uniquely French socio-historic commentary, to create a family of monsters that’s undoubtedly more real than any cabal of Texan cannibals. And while it doesn’t re-invent the genre or deviate significantly from the films it emulates, Frontier(s) proves that you don’t need to re-invent the wheel to make one that rolls along just fine.

Frontier(s) plot is fairly straightforward and familiar enough to any fan of horror. Amidst the chaos of a controversial national election and the outbreak of widespread rioting, a group of small-time thieves are on the run. They’re on their way to Holland because, politically astute as they are, they’ve had it with France’s turn toward the far right and the imminent suppression of constitutional rights. Well, that, and they stole hundreds of thousands of francs, and, oh, they shot a police officer. Split up into two groups, they decide to make their way through the French countryside, agreeing to rendezvous at some inconspicuous hostel before making their cross-border dash.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the first team, Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani), shack up in this little, desolate hostel in the middle of nowhere. The hostel is run by Klaudia (Amélie Daure), her Ilsa-like sister, Gilberte (Estelle Lefébure), and big-brother Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan), who looks and acts like the burly German mechanic Indy fights in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And while Farid senses that something isn’t quite right, Tom falls right into a threesome with Klaudia and Gilberte. Well, you probably know where this is going. By the time Farid and Tom discover the deathtrap they’re in, it’s too late. Their attempts to escape are foiled in messy, messy ways…

Unfortunately for friends Alex (Aurélien Wilk) and Yasmine (Karina Testa), Tom and Farid aren’t able to get a warning off, and so team two arrives at the same hostel. Gilberte eventually lures Alex and Yasmine into the family’s main killing grounds, a complex that’s part military bunker, part slaughterhouse, part pig ranch…and all terror! (Sorry, I always wanted to say that.) Yasmine notices the house’s décor consists of framed photographs of a Nazi rally and Adolf Hitler and suspects the worse. Her suspicions are confirmed with the arrival of the family patriarch, the sharply dressed, painfully strict “Father” (Jean-Pierre Jorris) who couldn’t look more creepily Nazi if he tried. Like their friends, Alex and Yasmine discover too late the trap they’ve fallen into. And while Alex helps Yasmine make a gritty, grimy escape, alas, the escape proves short-lived, setting us up for the inevitable third act where Yasmine (an admittedly tough cookie, especially given the amount of physical abuse she endures) must find her way out of the neo-Nazi cannibalistic nightmare.

Fans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, and House of 1000 Corpses will immediately recognize all their familiar elements in Frontier(s). The Von Geisler estate is essentially a Neo-Nazi version of the Hewitt farm. The clan includes the usual rabble of miscreants, with creepy Father presiding over a very disturbed family hierarchy that includes Gilberte, Klaudia, Goetz, the police officer impersonating Karl (Patrick Ligardes), a mask-less version of Leatherface, Hans (Joel Lefrancois), and Eva (Maud Forget), a pregnant, shell-shocked woman who has no problem slitting someone’s throat when asked to do so. Other references to previous slasher films include the mandatory dinner scene (where they’re not exactly serving up filet mignon), the mandatory torture scene (seriously, it seems every horror film these days has a thing for cutting a person’s Achilles’ tendon), the mandatory freezer full of rotting, mutilated corpses (makes a great hiding place!), and even creepy, marginally human things crawling about in the complex’ subterranean depths (a bit of The Descent on that one).

And, of course, there’s gore. And plenty of it. So much so, the movie was apparently scratched from the 8 Films to Die For Horrorfest 2007 because the MPAA slapped an NC-17 rating on it. (The version being released this month in theaters is an unrated version.) I don’t want to spoil the highlights, but let’s just say a buzzsaw, hot steam, a shotgun, meat hooks, and even a person’s teeth are put to very good use in this film. Gore hounds will be pleased with the film’s generous offerings of blood.

So, given the film’s liberal use of tried-and-true horror references, what exactly makes it different? How is Frontier(s) any better, or different, than Texas Chainsaw Massacre? On the surface, the film really isn’t anything new. It’s a plot we’ve seen done before many times (i.e., group of young folks are trapped in some middle-of-nowhere place inhabited by socially mal-adjusted miscreants). And while the movie isn’t quite as chilling as TCM, I think it’s a lot better and smarter than the somewhat ostentatious House of 1000 Corpses. It borrows familiar elements but manages to make them seem fresh, seamlessly integrating them into a narrative that’s well paced, well acted, and well told.

Having said that, it’s important to note the difference that Frontier(s) does bring to the table, and that’s its choice of villains, as well as its rationale for using them. Neo-Nazi cannibals might sound like a hokey concept upon first mention, but within the context of this film, you get a sense that Gens is trying to tell us something. It’s no coincidence that the film is set against political upheaval, as all of France erupts into rioting as a far right-wing government is set to win the national election. The ending scene is absolutely chilling and stunning in its implication; in the end, is there any difference between a band of cannibalistic Neo-Nazis and a squad of French policemen? If Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an indictment of corporate culture and its cannibalizing of the working class, is Gens’ Frontier(s) an indictment of the recent right leanings of the French government? Does the Von Geisler clan cannibalize unsuspecting French citizens because they represent the influence and integration of foreign, self-destructive policies into French society?

In the end, Frontier(s) delivers the chills, thrills, and visceral spills that a good slasher film is supposed to, while using its tried-and-true storytelling model to make some disturbing suggestions about the French socio-political landscape. And whether you look at this as social commentary, as an homage to TCM and similar films, or as its own stand-alone story about blood, guts, and cannibalistic Neo-Nazis, chances are you’ll enjoy this film.

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agentorange (14 years ago) Reply

Nice review Ulises! Thoughtful and in depth. Makes me want to see this even more.

After the royal crap-fest that was Hitman, I'm really looking forward to seeing this and getting a better idea of what he's capable of. It certainly sounds like he's more in his element here.


fdarsafarg (14 years ago) Reply

When will writers realize that just mashing shit from existing movies and other media into one movie DOES NOT make it any good?


Anonymous (14 years ago) Reply

You're right, it doesn't automatically make it "good," but if done well I think there is a case to be made for pastiche filmmaking. I mean, there's no question that we're living in a world of post-modernism run amok (i.e. the kind of world where Tarantino is king) but that doesn't automatically make the art bad either. There's nothing wrong with looking to the past for inspiration as long as you put wither a modern or creative spnin on the material.

Also, there are scholars who believe that there are essentially 5 or so main plots that have been recycled and updated for decades. Don't expect to see the wheel re-invented every time a new book or movie comes along or you'll just pull all your hair out in frustration.


Dave Kellum (14 years ago) Reply

I just want to see it for the "Ilsa-like sister"... If there weren't a threesome, it wouldn't be French!! LOL


marah (13 years ago) Reply

I really wanna see this! I've never heard of it and accidentally found this whenever I was googeling neo nazis on my way home from north carolina to texas but it sounds good im going to try to find it

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