Frontiers (2007) finally arrived on my doorstep after years of hearing that it was a standout in the horror genre. By and large, I went in blind with no idea what it was about, and ergo no preconceived notions. Recent French horror in general is notorious for having no, well… frontiers, no boundaries. Viewers are likely to see just about anything in French horror from the last 20 years, but it’s done so well that it’s easy to forget you’re watching outlandish acts of torture and brutality. Having finally seen it, I can now agree–Frontiers does nothing but help the reputation of the country of origin and the genre it occupies.
On the surface, it teeters perilously close to cliché. A group of 20-ish year old vandals escape rioting in Paris, and the law, by journeying in separate vehicles to a hostel in the French countryside. Naturally, they wind up stranded at the hostel. This is a plot that horror viewing veterans have seen time and again. But that is simply the framework. Where it goes from there is what makes Frontiers work so well.
For starters, it is especially dense. It uses the shaky cam at times. It takes us into–basically–torture porn at times (more on this in a minute). It occasionally lapses into an artistic bent. It can be particularly gruesome, even going beyond the torture angle. The atmospherics are top notch. There is a very liberal dose of exterior shots that feature a heavy blue filter. There are a handful of jump scares. There’s even a Nazi angle (again, more on this in a minute), and who’s more evil than Nazis? It’s rich in a lot of good ways, and it blends it all together seamlessly. Focusing on any one aspect listed above would’ve pushed the film over the cliff into full-on cliché. It never reaches that point.
There’s also a deeper symbolic level here. Race issues have been a particular boiling point in France. Giving it the modern context of the riots, and subsequently juxtaposing it against latent Nazis in the old world countryside, make it so much more than just a horror. It’s a statement film.*
*I’d love to continue here but I honestly would make a fool of myself; I don’t know enough about the specifics of the race issue in France to go further. The important thing here is that it’s not JUST a horror.
Even when the torture angle gets a bit overwhelming at times, it’s inventive. Pigs are used. There are weighty, disturbing Nazi lectures that accompany the torture. It has a proper (and properly jacked up) pretext of creating a master race (i.e. they aren’t torturing just to torture). Along the way, you’ll see the aforementioned murderous pigs, mud wrestling women, an ear bitten off, machine guns (kind of over the top), and one of the most surprising and great exploding head scenes I’ve ever seen.
Frontiers turns out to be bold, a film that takes a lot of chances and takes a plot that is so very ordinary and elevates it to something far greater. There are few things that I enjoy more than the unexpectedly great unknown horror and Frontiers delivered.