Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Here’s a movie that had sat on my shelf for a while, chiefly because of the “Eight Films to Die For” on the box cover. Not that all of the 8FTDF are terrible, but the quality is low enough that the odds aren’t in your favor. Having said that, I wish I hadn’t waited, because Frontière(s) is the best movie I’ve seen in the series.

It begins with the Paris riots of 2005. A group of four young men and one young woman have used the confusion to pull off a heist, and head for Amsterdam, leaving a mortally wounded gang member behind. Their plan hits a snag when they stop at a rural hostel (!) near the border. It seems the hostel is run by a family of unreconstructed Nazis, who also happen to be cannibals. Instead of making the big score, it becomes a struggle to survive.

The movie’s plot will remind many watchers of movies like The Hills Have Eyes, Tourist Trap, and Motel Hell, while the graphic torture scenes call to mind Hostel and the Saw series. While the gory scenes do place it within the recent “torture porn” sub-genre, there is a heart to this movie that serves to elevate it above the others. The characters are well-drawn, and the film does a good job of taking the robbers, who are initially seen as fairly unlikeable, and showing us sides of them that allow us to root them on, a vital part of hooking the viewer into feeling an interest in the outcome.

It is probably not necessary to understand the subtext of Xavier Gens’ movie, but it is trying to say something about the rise of right-wing authoritarianism in France, even if showing Nazi cannibals is pushing that pretty far. It also uses the ordeal of the multi-ethnic group against the “racially pure” cannibals to exaggerate and thus illuminate some of the problems France is facing with race and religion today.

For those who want the gore, the movie delivers, with a graphic hamstringing, a young man literally melting in a steam bath, another bisected with a table saw, and so on. It would be a pity if the movie is judged just by its gore, however.

The cast is excellent, particularly Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, and the always good Samuel Le Bihan (Le Pacte des loups). The German pronunciations do kind of come and go, with one of the family members even having his name pronounced two different ways, but that is a small thing. Gens makes effective use of what I believe is a Frazier lens in the final confrontation to give it a sense of hyper-realism.

There are a couple of the usual plot nit-picks. One of the victims makes the usual error of incapacitating one of the bad guys, and then doesn’t grab his gun. I’ve said it before: No matter what your feelings about gun control are, make an exception when being chased by murderous cannibals! In the same scene, one of the villains is felled by a blow to the head from a sledge-hammer, and is shortly up and around without any ill effects. Here’s your science tip for the day: If you are struck a hard blow in the head by a sledge-hammer, you probably won’t ever get back up, and if you do, your eggs will be severely scrambled.

For some reason, it also bugged me slightly when one of the murderers sees his dead brother and makes the sign of the cross. I realize that religious fanatics are often used in these things, but how can a devout Catholic ever find absolution for all this? (Father, forgive me for I have sinned. This week I killed and ate three people…)

The DVD presentation has French audio with English and Spanish subtitles, so if you don’t speak French and hate subtitles, this may be a problem. I speak a little French, but kept having to back up to get things I missed, so I finally turned the subtitles on for good.

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