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DVD Review: Frontier(s)

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Moments after my initial viewing of Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s), I noticed something quite peculiar; a few of my front teeth were missing. It was then that I assumed the film had kicked them out of my mouth during viewing.

Whoever says that hardcore horror is dead certainly hasn’t been keeping up with the recent crop of French genre pictures. Alexandre Aja’s High Tension, Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside, and Gens’ Frontier(s) have all been tough, gritty films that hold nothing back and make sure the person (or persons) watching them will surely turn the player off affected. Unlike American horror, the types that either go for a mild PG-13 rating or think they’re more shocking than they really are (the entire run of Saw films), the French seem to know what they’re doing.

Gens was first introduced to American audiences with his 2007 action vehicle/videogame adaptation, Hitman, and there was some brief controversy surrounding that. Apparently, Fox wasn’t prepared for what Gens was going to do with Skip Woods’ script. In short, he turned what could have been atypical summer blockbuster formula into a dark, morbid character-driven film. Consequently, Fox ordered re-shoots and the movie’s release date was pushed back.

Perhaps that is most telling of exactly what kind of film Frontier(s) is. When a genre picture involves a bizarre family of neo-Nazis either feasting on their captured or using a carefully selected female to carry on the family lineage, you know the film in question aims to push some buttons. But not only is the bizarre content and tone of Gens’ morbid horror picture a total definition of what an NC-17 rating is (the movie received an NC-17 rating by the MPAA and, as far as I know, they said they would never be able to award it an R), it’s also packed with various grotesqueries, nonstop violence, and buckets of blood and gore.

That’s probably why a lot of horror fans will want to see this movie: because of the controversy surrounding its rating and its supposed level of gore. While Frontier(s) isn’t as graphic as a lot of old school Italian horror, it is certainly one of the most visually disgusting, as well as disturbing, horror pictures in recent memory (only rivaled by Maury & Bustillo’s previously mentioned Inside). Much blood is spilled and the various methods of torture and violence are beyond anything seen in popular American “torture-porn” such as Saw and Hostel. The tone of the film is very down-trodden and, because of that, helps to create a very bleak atmosphere, perhaps heightening the intense violence more so.

But there is method to Gens’ madness. The film has a large underlying subtext of racial equality and equal rights among both races and genders. It may play out like a lot of other revenge thrillers, but by tossing in some neo-Nazis and … gasp… a point that goes beyond senseless violence makes for a film that has more on its mind than blood & guts. The movie, as a whole, plays largely as a metaphor. At that, the violence is necessary no matter how ugly it gets.

I can’t say Frontier(s) is for everybody as those uninterested in this type of subgenre will be very tempted to write it off as nothing more than 108 minutes of “torture-porn.” But it really is so much more than that. Frontier(s) is a beautifully directed, shot, acted, written, and, at times, horrifically violent genre picture that is every bit as good as you’ve been hearing.

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About Thomas Steenhagen