Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #683
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: July 1, 2007 (Agde Film Festival)
Sub-Genre: Extreme Exploitation
Country of Origin: France, Switzerland
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Xavier Gens
Producer: Laurent Tolleron
Screenplay: Xavier Gens
Special Effects: Guillaume Castagné, Nicolas Herlin, Laetitia Hillion, Frédéric Lainé
Visual Effects: Mathieu Brusamonti, Rodolphe Guglielmi, Bourdonnay Judikael
Cinematography: Laurent Barès
Score: Jean-Pierre Taïeb
Editing: Carlo Rizzo
Studios: BR Films, Cartel Productions, Chemin Vert, Pacific Films
Stars: Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefébure, David Saracino, Chems Dahmani, Adel Bencherif, Maud Forget, Amélie Daure, Rosine Favey, Joël Lefrançois, Patrick Ligardes, Jean-Pierre Jorris
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 The Kaiser Chiefs “I Predict A Riot”
 Jean-Pierre Taïeb (feat. Kafkaz) “Soundtrack Suite”
 A.W.I.M. “Kill Me”
The world can be an uncompromising place. Barely a day goes by without some kind of atrocity playing out somewhere in the world and it’s hard to keep track of all the unpleasantness. Countries are ravaged by war, terrorist attacks have become a regular occurrence, and I struggle to recall a time when there has been so much political unrest. To be fair, it’s actually nothing new, as mankind has a long history pressing the self-destruct button once frustrations rise and there will always be those who favor violence over peaceful communication when making their point. With over seven billion of us bundled together and trying to make sense of this escalating madness, there will inevitably be a few rotten apples for whom unnecessary roughness is the only answer and it doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.
Enter French filmmaker Xavier Gens, who is perhaps best known for his silver screen translation of popular videogame, Hitman, in 2007. However, mere months previous, his debut full-length feature Frontier(s) arrived on the scene and caused something of a stir with its no-holds barred approach to turning stomachs. Gens actually conceived the film during the 2002 French presidential elections, ultra-right wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen made a surprisingly strong showing at the polls, and wastes no time in tossing his audience straight into the firing line. The streets of Paris have been torn apart by rioting as the result of a similarly divisive election for the French presidency and it’s crystal clear where he has drawn his inspiration.
While riot police are attempting in vain to contain the situation, five Muslim Arab delinquents have used this turmoil as a cover for a bank job and are doing a fairly decent job of getting away with it too. Alex (Aurélien Wiik), Tom (David Saracino), Farid (Chems Dahmani), the pregnant Yasmine (Karina Testa), and her brother Sami (Adel Bencherif) are within touching distance of a clean getaway, although Sami has managed to pick up a mortal wound in the process and his distraught sibling refuses to let him die alone.
While she and Alex deliver Sami to the nearest emergency room just in time to watch him exhale his final breath, Tom and Farid take the money and run, with the intention of meeting up with their associates further down the line. It’s worth noting that Yasmine plans to terminate the pregnancy at the first opportunity as she doesn’t wish to bring her baby into a world so blighted by hostility and bloodshed. If only she knew the half of it.
Where better than a secluded family run inn near the Belgian border to consolidate right? It appears that Tom and Farid have landed on their feet as innkeepers Gilberte (Estelle Lefébure) and Klaudia (Amélie Daure) are only too happy to accommodate the pair and tend to their every sexual need.
However, warning signs soon start flashing once the girls’ increasingly agitated brother Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan) extends the pair an invitation to a nice sit-down family meal and Farid reveals that his religious beliefs prevent him from being able to tuck into the pot roast they’ve prepared. He is promptly quizzed as to whether or not he is Jewish and the penny starts to drop that they’ve unwittingly stumbled into a nest of deeply inhospitable Nazis.
Things only get more fucked from here as Yasmine and Alex are now receiving their own warm welcome to the inn and about to be introduced to the rest of the family. These comprise beefy butcher Hans (Joël Lefrançois), sheepish broken doll Eva (Maud Forget), no-nonsense golden boy Karl (Patrick Ligardes) and patriarch, von Geisler (Jean-Pierre Jorris) who just so happens to be looking for a suitable wife for Karl to continue the family’s long and proud lineage.
This is desperate news for Yasmine, given that she already has a bun in the oven, and an even worse bulletin for her boorish companions as they are clearly considered surplus to requirements. While the inn itself appears fairly innocuous, it’s the nearby mine shaft and its sprawling underground network that they should be worried about as it is here in the chop shop that shit is taken to the next level.
Gens predictably drew rather a lot of flack for his unflinching approach to a number of unspeakable acts that litter the runtime, but for all its meanness of spirit, Frontier(s) is also almost criminally entertaining. 108 minutes may seem like a stretch but not a solitary one feels wasteful, and after hitting the ground running, it proceeds in just the same fashion until it reaches its immensely satisfying conclusion. I’ve heard it remarked that the main protagonists are hateful, and admittedly their moral fibre is questionable at times, but none of them deserve the fate the Nazi scum have planned and we’re under no illusion whatsoever who the “good guys” are.
The performances are excellent right across the board, with Jorris chewing the scenery like a rabid attack dog as the leader of this cruel collective, but it is Testa who shines brightest as the increasingly distraught Yasmine learns of von Geisler’s wicked plans to groom her as one of his own. Her role is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally, but the range of emotions she displays is downright staggering and ensures that our interest never once waivers.
Indeed, her turn calls to mind Marilyn Burns from Tobe Hooper’s enigmatic exploitation masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the film is unabashed in its attempts to provoke the same kind of raw, unremitting terror. It may not ever be able to aspire to the same level of greatness, but Frontier(s) certainly can’t be accused of compromising as this is balls-to-the-wall stuff Grueheads and shifts at the velocity of a rattlesnake.
Meanwhile, Laurent Barès deserves tremendous kudos for some breathtakingly dynamic photography. Whether deep in the dingy mines or out in the open amidst incessant downpour, Frontier(s) makes the very most of its washed out setting and Jean-Pierre Taïeb’s militant score wraps around the deliciously bleak visuals like an SS armband. The combination of all these factors makes for a film that flat refuses to relinquish its cast iron grip on our fast fraying nerve endings. Moreover, in light of recent world events, it feels more relevant now than ever although this is essentially more about lambs in peril than political agenda. The fact that it stands tall in such a crowded marketplace speaks volumes for just how hard and frequently it hits.
With the likes of Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside and Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs placing extreme new wave French cinema squarely on the map, Frontier(s) somehow managed to fly beneath the radar and many dismissed it out of hand as gore for gore’s sake. However, any suffering (and trust me there is ample) feels necessary in conveying the hopelessness of our survivors’ plights and the French aren’t known for taking half-measures when it comes to turning that blood-soaked screw. Having just had the dubious pleasure a second time, I can now state with assurance that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as these indisputable classics. Just remember to run that bath beforehand as you’ll damn well be needing a soak down once this malformed little baby has unspooled.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: I’m at a loss here as Frontier(s) is undoubtedly one of the bloodiest and most singlemindedly grisly exploitation flicks I’ve ever lived through in over thirty-five years as a sucker for punishment. Every last entry and exit wound is reveled in, Achilles heels are callously snipped using oversized pincers, jugulars severed, chewed upon and spat back out, skin melted away from the bones, faces taken clean off, axes swung to fashion gaping cavities, and seldom has deep red been so utterly prevalent. However, the pick of a gloriously rancid bunch would have to the table-saw gag, which may well provoke that precise reaction from its onlookers. Be warned, this grubby little delight really couldn’t be less for the easily nauseated.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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