Frontiers from 2007 is a brutal illustration of what humans are capable of doing to other humans, even invoking the worst violence painstakingly documented in recent history – the Nazi violence perpetrated in pursuit of eugenics. Frontiers from French filmmaker Xavier Gens is part of a group of movies considered the New French Extremity Movement. This subgenre is characterized by grotesque violence to the human form shown in very gory detail. Martyrs, Frontiers and Inside make the perfect trio to explore New French Extremity, with Titane being perhaps a triumphant and more mainstream return to the subgenre. From a horror fan’s perspective, Frontiers is Hostel meets The Hills Have Eyes meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre with even some moments reminiscent of The Descent, so let’s get into it.
In the case of Frontiers, Gens claims it is inspired by the real-life political fears from the 2002 French election where a far right-wing candidate came close to winning the presidency, and the robbery perpetrated by our group of friends almost mirrors the instigating incident of the 2005 urban riots. The movie seems to take place in a future where France is under fascist rule, and starts with a sonogram and a voice over of our main protagonist, Yasmine (Karina Testa) philosophizing about how she could bring a child into a world filled with such violence and hatred interspersed with footage of the violent urban riots going on at the time. This focuses to a group of young people on the run, including the pregnant Yasmine.
After getting separated, Tom and Fariq stumble into a small motel run by the Von Geisler family where they are greeted by Gilberte and Klaudia. They text Yasmine and Alex their location before heading downstairs for some food. After the most awkward family dinner EVER, they are attacked by older brothers Karl and Goetz. As Klaudia collects their belongings and puts them with countless other glasses, cell phones, etc., it is clear that this family has been kidnapping those who make the unfortunate decision to stop at their “motel.”
After the brutal attack by Karl and Goetz, Tom and Fariq attempt a desperate getaway only to end up crashing into an old mine shaft where they hope to find refuge. Meanwhile, unaware of the dangers awaiting them, Yasmine and Alex show up to the Von Geisler motel. Another WEIRD family dinner with a very young pregnant woman Eva, and Nazi father ends with Yasmine and Alex being chained at the necks by yet another brother, Hans, and dragged to the pig sty. Yasmine crawls through pig excrement after managing to break her chain, but must leave Alex behind – his final words to her are that she should live.
Yasmine wakes up in Eva’s room where she is told she will marry Karl and be the infusion of new blood the family needs to keep the Von Geisler line going. She is clothed in a white frilly dress for the ceremonial marriage dinner where all hell breaks loose and Yasmine manages to get away, choosing any means necessary to save her own life and the life of her unborn child. Things just get crazier from there – there are mutant cannibals, a room full of hanging corpses, a large oven, an exploding head, a miter saw, and so. much. blood.
The true horror of Frontiers is existential
The true horror becomes what Yasmine must endure, and also the savagery she must commit in order to survive. The brilliance of Testa’s performance is in her effective portrayal of shock and pain – the way she holds herself, her jerky body movements, the small noises she lets out as she experiences extreme violence both against her and by her own hands. The final scenes where her pristine white frock is covered in blood, and mud, and more are visually striking. As the rain washes off some of the gore after she tears out a woman’s jugular with her teeth (long before Rick did it in The Walking Dead), it seems like almost a baptism of sorts – but can anything wash away the hell she just lived through.
The tagline is “what are your boundaries?,” and Yasmine has shown that she has none when it comes to saving her life and the life of her baby. Does that make her a monster too? The original song “Kill Me” by score composer Jean-Pierre Taïeb that rolls during the credits brings this point home repeatedly in its lyrics saying “kill me, I’m a monster.” So while this is a brutal and violent film that is at times difficult to endure, there is a deeper meaning lurking underneath the gore that keeps the soulless nature of these films at bay. Can brutality be redeemed in movies AND people? What are YOUR boundaries?
Do you have boundaries when it comes to the brutality in horror movies? What are they?