FRONTIER(S) DVD Review

     May 18, 2008



Reviewed by Hunter M. Daniels



FORWARD:



Okay, so, can we have a conversation for a minute? I think we need to discuss something sort of serious—the Holocaust.



Now, I’m not going to be talking about how we need to remember the Holocaust or how Yom Hashoah should be a national holiday. We all know the facts. 6 million Jews. 5 million “undesirables” including gays, blacks, gypsies and many, many other groups. These are things any 12-year old can probably tell you. What I want to discuss is how we’ve turned Nazis into comic book villains. It’s really not okay. It’s grotesque at best, foolish exploitation at worst, and when it’s done for political allegory, it’s almost always misused. All three of these variations are unfortunately central to the new French horror film, Frontier(s), a film as full of political subtext as it is filled with bloody surface.



Nazism is scary, I know. It’s natural horror show elements make it a perfect fit for a horror film on the surface. However, underneath it all, the concept of Nazis and Neo-Nazi’s as cartoony evildoers is unsettling on an entirely different level. Some people seem to think that Nazism is cute. And this is where the problem is for me. All of these films ultimately glorify Nazis. All of them.



The conundrum here is the same as that of war movies; in trying to show the horror of war directors end up making battle look cool. Similarly, filmmakers looking for the ultimate in evil often fall back on Hitler and his jolly band of genocidal followers but in so doing they make the Nazis look like total badasses. The films cast the Nazis as villains but in horror films, people often identify more with the antagonists. For young disaffected males looking to test their masculinity in a world that they feel has emasculated them these Neo-Nazi monsters become heroes.



I’m not one to say that films make people do anything or that a film is going to cause violence, but I will say this—American History X is looked upon quite fondly by many Neo-Nazis in the San Fernando Valley. I know this for a fact.



THE MOVIE



Frontier(s) is being billed as the French response to Hostel and Saw. But I don’t see that. If anything, it’s the French response to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre since it steals several plot elements from that film and bizarrely, a few elements from the remake.



Most of Frontier(s) is made up of old parts. There are elements of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Descent, The Devil’s Rejects, Psycho, Hostel, Se7en and many other films here. Little of what we see on screen is new, even if some of the kills are truly horrifying.



The biggest thing Frontier(s) has going for it is director Xavier Gens decisions to place the narrative in the middle of France’s 2005 race riots between young Muslims who feel they are secondary citizens because of a program that amounts to “guest worker” status and the French establishment. This framing for the film gives some weight and purpose to the bloodshed.



The story begins after a group of young friends have stolen a large amount of money during these riots. They plan to escape to Holland for the unspoken purpose of getting one member of the group an abortion. Two of the other members of the group are her brother and his best friend, who impregnated the girl.



This is a good set up. In fact, I can see a pretty interesting movie being made about just the road trip. But, Gens is not happy to just have character dynamics, no. He also throws in cults, Nazis, mutant inbreeds, gratuitous sex, and a guy getting his face melted off.



There is a tremendous sense of movement to Frontier(s). The film begins in the middle of an action scene and just plows ahead. The second act is taken up largely by a series of parallel set pieces where each of the members of the group is separated. The film cuts from one horrible image to another and builds to what should be a cacophony of terror.



Only, it doesn’t.



Somehow, after setting up interesting character dynamics and creating a dynamite middle section of the film, Gens flubs his ending. Instead of riding the energy of the film’s first half, the narrative stops dead and the film begins to drag. Three times I checked to see how much time was left in the film. What should have been grueling, became simply boring. Worst of all, the climactic moment where one character finally begins to fight comes far too late and is no where near as exciting or interesting as many of the early scenes in the film. The film does have a devious final moment, but it gets lost in too many loose ends and unresolved plot elements to feel truly satisfying.



The plot here is basic, but the subtext is somewhat more complex. The characters run into an inbred Nazi cult that is run by an aging patriarch who needs an heir. The women in the cult seduce the men to give the cult new blood. The protagonists quickly discover that there is something horribly amiss and all hell breaks loose.



The meaning to all this seems to be a warning about the return of fascism to France. The protagonists escape a revolution to find deeply seeded elements of French history that are even more frightening than their present situation. The Nazi villains exist because they stayed in France after the war. They’ve been hiding for years, but now they are bubbling up again. The filmmakers see the current system as Nazi-esque and moving further to the right at a rapid pace.



Inside of the story it is shown that the Nazis have run out of blood. They need new people and are trying to lure the Muslims into their cult for the purpose of renewing the bloodline and expanding their territory. The racial tension is highlighted and the position of the filmmakers is clear.



And to an extent they are right. The French government has mistreated people and exploited them for cheap labor without giving them full citizenship. Many of these youths have absolutely been ghettoized. However, I do not see the parallel to Nazism beyond that.



Yes, the government is using force to subdue social protest. Yes, the government has killed many youths and there are absolutely racial lines drawn in the sand. But, while it might be fascist, it falls short of Nazism. Consequently, the film seems alarmist and exploitive at the same moment. It has serious reasons to use the Nazi imagery, but then ends up using the Nazis as typical slashers. The motivation is clear, but the elements come off as confused in their execution.



Like the recent Inside (another French slasher), this is not a fun movie by any means. The best elements of Frontier(s) are political in nature and will thus be lost on the majority of the American audience as the race riots were under-reported and are a fairly complex issue, (I will freely admit that my summary of the issue is amateurish at best). This film has some worthwhile elements but it also feels more cruel than most films. If you want to sit back and have a fun evening with a horror film of this type, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or Wrong Turn 2 or even the aforementioned Inside are much better options.



EXTRAS



There are no extras of any note on this disc. However, the movie looks great and sounds great.



CONCLUSION



Frontier(s) starts off great, but can’t make it to the finish line.




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