Jan 10, 2009

Film Review: Frontiere(s) [18]

Dir: Xavier Gens
In the near future a gang of thieves flees Paris after a botched job. They find an inn, off the beaten track, in which they can hide out. Unfortunately the inn is run by an extended family of Neo-Nazi cannibals. That old story.

Every filmmaker steals, it’s not new, and it’s not going to stop any time soon, but even so Xavier Gens’ first film seems less like the work of an auteur than that of a magpie, taking scenes from his favourite films and bringing them back to slot them into his own. What emerges is a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, stitched together from myriad different ideas, which don’t always work in a coordinated way.

It starts well, with newsreel footage of riots in Paris (reminiscent of the openings of 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake), which fills in an interesting background, in which the French election has just been won by the far right, but this is forgotten all too quickly. Once the gang arrives at the inn Frontiere(s) becomes an extended homage to every backwoods horror movie you’ve ever seen, with shades of Hostel thrown in for good measure.

Most notable is the resemblance to the peerless Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original). The only big difference is that this dysfunctional family actually has women, but otherwise, from the desiccated grandmother, to the hulking brother (an unrecognisable Samuel LeBihan) and the mad patriarch (who seems more than a little inspired by R. Lee Ermey’s performance in the TCM remake), it’s all very familiar, especially in the inevitable scene in which they and the films survivor girl (Karina Testa) have dinner. You should also be able to spot shots that reference The Descent, Carrie and Saw.

So, why is Frontiere(s) any better than the hundred other naked rip-offs of better horror films that came out last year? It’s a question of execution. Gens may not do anything especially new, but he and his capable cast throw up a selection of memorable (and nasty) moments. Frontiere(s) is intensely and imaginatively violent (Testa jokes in the making of that rather than being painted with fake blood she should sit in a bath of it before a scene) and executes its largely practical effects well on what must have been a rather small budget.

Outside of the film's intensity and violence there are quieter moments that work too, thanks mainly to the fine work of the leads. David Saracino, as the patriarch, is a ham of the first order, while Estelle Lefebure is as wooden as the table the family eat dinner at, otherwise there are good turns all round. LeBihan is completely transformed as the tank like Goetz, and genuinely scary, but the acting honours go to Karina Testa and Maud Forget. Testa makes for an excellent final girl, her willowy frame proving no barrier to the fury she unleashes in the last two reels. What she does that is relatively new is that she keeps some continuity between the scared young woman of the first half of the film and the bloodied avenger of its ending, making the shift more credible than usual. Forget steals the film with just one scene though, filling in the background of her character with a monologue that is at once creepy and very sad. It’s a smart piece of character acting.

I wish that Gens had explored the background to his film a little more, planting the seeds about the right wing government and then not paying them off is an odd and rather annoying tease, and it would have been nice if his film had a single original idea in its 94 minutes. Frontiere(s) isn’t a bad movie though, it rattles along at a good pace and has enough moments that unnerve and disgust to satisfy most horror fans.

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