There's an American studio tradition when it comes to marketing a foreign film — never reveal in the trailer that the movie's subtitled. Hence, the promo clip for Frontier(s) only contains universal horror-flick language — screams of pain. But talk about a marketing nightmare; subtitle-phobic gore fans aren't the only things After Dark Films had to contend with after picking up Frontier(s) — seems the film could not make it past the MPAA with an R-rating. Wisely, ADF left the film unedited and released it to the scarce few theaters willing to show an unrated flick unaltered by MPAA scrutiny. The plot of Frontier(s) feels culled together from other more high-profile horror films, but don't hold that against it. Amid a riot in Paris, Yasmine, along with brother Sami, ex-boyfriend Alex and two friends steal a large sum of money. Yasmine is three months pregnant and plans to use the money for an abortion because she can't see bringing a baby into a world that only claims to offer freedom and equality. Soon the cops shoot Sami forcing Yasmine and Alex to take him to the hospital while their partners head for the Danish border. The latter pair lands at a secluded motel and text their location to Yasmine. But the stop is, of course, a mistake when the motel owners turn out to be an especially sadistic Neo-Nazi family. One by one, our gang of thieves is hunted down and tortured in some of the most despicable and blood-soaked ways imaginable.
So, what makes Frontier(s) any different from torture porn churned out by overrated hacks like Eli Roth (Hostel)? Well, here's where a short French history lesson may come in handy: In October and November of 2005, there were a series of large-scale riots in France that stemmed from the death of two teenagers who lived in a low-income suburb of Paris. They were suspected of a construction site break-in, got chased by cops and electrocuted while hiding in a power substation.
The civil unrest that broke out was fueled by unemployment, religious tensions, racial inequality and a growing fear of police harassment. A few years later, more riots broke out when two more teens died after a police car collided with their stolen motorbike. These recent events give Frontier(s) subtext and a realistic backdrop for its extreme violence. It says that fear and intolerance stand beside baguettes and berets as France's main cultural identity. The France in Frontier(s) isn't the glossed-up version most romanticize. There are no midnight strolls on the Seine. No espresso sipping at sidewalk cafés with the ghostly Eiffel Tower in the distance. No scenic shots of the Louvre or the Arc de Triomphe. No; here writer-director Xavier Gens (Hitman) reveals a contemporary France that's dark and violent, the one that banned the wearing of khimars (headscarves) by Muslim schoolgirls and in 2007 elected Nicolas Sarkozy — a right-wing nut — as president. It's no surprise that Gens' antagonists — a Nazi family — work as a not-so-subtle metaphor for the French government. But if you flunked your poli-sci courses and the only French you know involves fries, toast and dressing — what can you get out of this flick? Well, at the most primal and visceral, Frontier(s) works as like a cathartic revenge flick — albeit the goriest and most gruesome one in recent memory. Gens' tone is serious and bleak; there are no wisecracks, inside jokes or self-serving parodies to cushion the almost endless pageant of torture. The repulsive carnage heaped upon the heroine may drive sensitive moviegoers from the theater — misogyny's too mild a word to describe the number of times Yasmine is punched, smacked and beaten mercilessly. In other words: this isn't a first-date flick or some way for husbands to prove to wives they've a sensitive side. You're warned.
Opens Friday, May 9, exclusively at MJR Southgate 20, 15651 Trenton Rd., Southgate; 734-284-FILM. Hits DVD on Tuesday, May 13.
Paul Knoll writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.