I've said it before -- in many different ways -- and I'll probably keep coming up with new ways to say it: Your movie can be familiar, conventional, and even somewhat predictable -- but if you're willing to inject something fresh into the proceedings, you're halfway to winning the hearts of a few horror fans. When I first saw Xavier Gens' Frontiere(s), it was part of an enjoyably horror-packed Toronto Film Festival. (I believe that was the afternoon I saw Inside, Frontier(s), and Diary of the Dead, if you can believe that good luck.) I'll throw you a few sections of my original review, but after a second visit with the flick ... I think I like it a whole lot more than the first. My initial reaction was that Frontiere(s) was a fun yet shallow affair, but now I think director Xavier Gens is just a little bit smarter than that. (We'll ignore the fact that he directed Hitman after this, and just hope he gets back to horror soon.)
We open in the near-future, and France is suffering through a socio-political firestorm. A "right-wing" police state is in effect, and as we settle into the story we're introduced to five criminals on the run: Four hateful men and one pregnant woman. (Guess who's the hero(ine).) After one of the gang members drops dead in a hospital, the remaining quartet splits up and makes plans to meet up at an isolated hotel on the French border. To say these idiots choose the wrong hotel would be a stunning example of understatement.
Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the hotel is run by an extended family of Nazi cannibal mega-freaks. And needless to say, they're not very nice. Once both cars arrive on the scene, the cat & mouse carnage can begin in full force. A few of our anti-heroes are dispatched in decidedly unpleasant fashion, but of course we're not suffering through all this slaughterhouse insanity with no promise of catharsis on the horizon. Plot-wise, it's all very familiar and frequently quite predictable -- but boring? Absolutely not.
Gens clearly has some talent for setting a mood, amping up some tension, and delivering all sorts of ultra-splattery madness, but his screenplay often delves down into broad silliness. Whether or not that was his intention, I do not know. Perhaps the sillier sections are meant to act as a tension release -- because if Frontiere(s) is flush in one thing, it's high-end nastiness and enthusiastically over-the-top gore-tossing. (That's twice in this review that I've used the phrase "over-the-top," but it definitely applies here. If you love copious amounts of graphic viscera and undeniably grungy atmosphere, this is an import you'll want to track down.)
Fortunately the folks at After Dark got a hold of this freaky French import and made it an easy enough flick to find. But the immortal question remains: Is it a collectible flick? Is it a horror movie that deserves a spot on your import shelf between The Host and Inside? I'd say for sheer audacity, absolutely. It might not be as over-the-top as Inside or as unique as the other "special imports," but if mood, atmosphere, color, and nastiness count for anything, then I say Frontier(s) is yet another little horror flick that you'll TRY to get your friends to watch. If Frontier(s) feels a bit top-heavy, as if we're spinning our wheels just a little bit in anticipation of a gore-laden third act, then I'd probably agree that the 108-minute running time is a bit on the swollen side -- but still, it's safe to say that Frontier(s) earns a place in the French Horror Renaissance, right alongside Inside, High Tension, and Them. These might not be bona-fide horror classics, but it's always cool to visit a culture that actually respects the genre.
Bad news, good news on the DVD though: The technical specs (anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 French with English subtitles) are quite excellent, but aside from a few Lionsgate trailers, we get nothing in the supplemental department. Still the movie's the thing, right? I don't think Monsieur Gens speaks English all that well, so the lack of a commentary may be a good thing. A few featurettes might have been nice, but at least the movie looks fantastic. Nothing worse than a choppy transfer, especially where imports are concerned. Overall, a definite must-rent for the horror fans, many of whom will stop back and add it to their "keeper list" once the credits have rolled.