Frontier(s) (US - DVD R1)
Gabe reviews the ninth of After Dark's Eight Films to Die For. Wait, what?
A small gang of petty crooks attempts to take advantage of Paris’ recent and deadly race riots. Their heist attempt goes terribly wrong and the group is forced to split up after one member is shot. Yasmine (Karina Testa) and her thuggish ex take the injured man to the hospital, but he doesn’t survive. Almost a day ahead of their ‘friends’, the other gang members stop off in a seedy hostel owned by creepy, sex starved, degenerate rednecks. By the time Yasmine and her ex arrive, their friends are already missing, and foul play appears to be afoot.
The French have proven more than willing to push the boundaries of mainstream cinema throughout modern film history. Many critics and historians co-credit the French along with the Italians for bringing frank sex to the forefront of film, and Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face was quite serious about its shocking violence in the relatively tame time of 1959. A bit late in the game this time, French filmmakers seem to be making up for lost time, as many popular young filmmakers are embracing graphic and unsettling violence tighter and more effectively than ever before. At this point I don’t think I’m out of place with crediting them as the hardest of the hard core in the world right now, out revolting America, and out disturbing Japan (though Miike still holds the current ‘fun’ offensive violence crown).
Gaspar Noé’s Seul Contre Tous and Irréversible have pushed the limits of violent sex as far as any semblance of mainstream can handle. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside is a take no prisoners, kitchen sink included gore fest the likes of which have been missing since Peter Jackson went straight. Not content to sit on the sidelines of the ‘70s realist horror revival, filmmakers like Alexandre Aja, Fabrice Du Welz, and Kim Chapiron have kicked out a series of twisted features like Haute Tension, Calvaire, and Sheitan, films which really grasp the texture and terror of the era. Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) continues this tradition.
2006’s After Dark Horrorfest ‘winner’ was Nacho Cerdà’s The Abandoned, which was then released separately from the other seven films. I was very disappointed when I finally saw film, because I respected the director, and because I bought into LionsGate and After Dark’s aggressive advertising campaign. In 2007 Frontier(s) was considered for the 2007 Horrorfest, but was dropped when it received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Rather than cutting it or even dubbing (like they did Haute Tension), After Dark and LionsGate actually took the high road and decided to release the film separately and uncut. This ‘too hot for the MPAA’ status became the film’s main selling point, and again, I’ve been roped in by the ads. I’m not as disappointed in this film as I was The Abandoned, but I’m not enthralled either.
There is a strong Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left vibe throughout the film. These are arguably the two defining films of the revolutionary ‘70s realist horror set. This is a bit of a hindrance to Frontier(s) from the outset, because it immediately suffers somewhat unfavourable comparisons to the two incendiary classics. The psycho family ravaging unsuspecting youth thing is so mouldy at this point it’s practically penicillin. In fact, one could rightfully accuse Gens of flat out remaking Chainsaw in rural France without the chain saw (cannibal rural family, survivor girl, dinner scene).
Frontier(s) doesn’t really turn the tropes on their head either, or play the plot and scares very far against audience expectations, but the tenacity of the violence and pacing is tenacious enough to suggest a sampling to horror fanatics. Gens devises plenty of gruesome ways to dispatch his protagonists, and some of them are genuinely shocking (though Achilles heel cutting threatens to lose its punch these days). This one really comes down to the intensity of the violence, the filmmaking and acting aren’t particularly mind blowing, and the script is just too unoriginal, even the film’s early attempts at political relevance are kind of negated when the ten steps over-the-top villains are revealed.
But you know what? The last act is pretty freakin’ awe inspiring in its utter extremeness. It still isn’t something new story-wise (come to think of it the first act plot is rendered more or less extraneous once the second act begins), but things are taken to a place and degree that most of us likely weren’t expecting. Though I’d still call Haute Tension the superior movie, we all know Aja’s third act had some massive problems, so I’ll chock at least one up for Gen.
There are defiantly some issues with this anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer, but it’s got it where it counts. The general image struggles with definition in the really darks scenes (which describes just about two thirds of the film), which leads to some overexposed lights. The contrast levels are a bit fishy, leading to some unfavourably flaring whites among the beautiful and deep blacks. However, unlike some recent films that have been particularly dark and ill defined (including that 1080p Blu-ray release of AVP:R) I was never at a loss as to what was going on in frame. The contrast and sharpness tinkering mostly hurts the transfer in the form of edge enhancement. To better emulate that classic ‘70s look Gens hasn’t shied away from a grainy image, and sometimes it hurts the clarity a bit, but this was likely on purpose, and probably wouldn’t look much better in high definition.
Frontier(s) revels in a pretty belligerent soundtrack, which fills the surround and stereo channels with creepy ambience pretty consistently throughout the entire film. The score is mostly made up of abstract sounds and punchy scares rather than melodies (except for the super dramatic last act), which isn’t anything new to modern horror soundtracks. Though this isn’t one of the most impressive and flashy track of its kind I don’t think most of us will be disappointed. The LFE track holds some really punchy bite, and the sound designers are smart enough not to overuse it and let it muddy the otherwise clean track. I did notice that the centre channel, which holds the majority of the noise, is a bit quieter than the other channels, which obviously creates a few problems.
Nothing here but some LionsGate and After Dark trailers.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from Frontier(s), but what I got was a reasonably well made thriller with some fantastically upsetting violence, and a script full of tropes and clichés. It’s worth seeing for horror fans (it’s got a killer last act), but I didn’t find it as satisfying as Haute Tension or Wolf Creek. Though who knows how I would’ve felt if this film was released first. Perhaps I’m suffering a little post-‘70s horror fatigue lately.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th May 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Easter Egg: No
Director: Xavier Gens
Cast: Joel LeFrancois, Samuel Le Bihan, Aurelien Wiik, Jean-Pierre Jorris, Maud Forget
Length: 108 minutes
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