The French Extremity movement has always been controversial. In fact, it was designed as such, centering on plots intended to provoke and characters engaging in acts that are meant to frighten and repulse. The recent re-release of Irreversible (2002) has presented an alternative cut of the film, one that seems to speak even more to the nihilism of the movement and has drawn attention back to one of the most shocking and subversive subgenres of cinema. This sense of nihilism and the essential pain of existence is a common theme in French extremity, often expressed through extreme violence, like in the films Martyrs (2008) and Inside (2007).
What Is ‘Frontier(s)’ About?
Many films from the first wave of the movement continue to feel significant and contemporary, dealing with themes that are intrinsic to the human condition. Unfortunately, one film, in particular, remains relevant due to its exploration of the evils of fascism and the dangers of bigotry and hatred. That film is 2007’s Frontier(s) (Frontière(s) in French) written and directed by Xavier Gens. Released at the tail end of the first wave, it is a slasher often labeled as the French version of Saw (2004) or Hostel (2005). In Paris, a far-right candidate has reached the second round of elections for the French presidency, triggering riots across the city. Against the backdrop of looting, rioting, fires, and civil unrest, a gang takes advantage of the chaos to carry out a bank robbery. On the run from the police, the group splits up, with Yasmine (Karina Testa) and Alex (Aurélien Wiik) taking Yasmine’s brother to the hospital and Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani) taking the money and heading towards the border. Finding an isolated B&B, they think their problems are over, planning to hide out and wait for the others. But the owners of the hotel are soon revealed to be bloodthirsty neo-Nazi cannibals, who are hell-bent on torturing and eating the gang.
In ‘Frontier(s)’, Gore Represents Bigger Social Issues and Far-Right Sentiments
The legacy of Frontier(s) lies not in its gory shock value but in the ways this gore acts as a metaphor for wider social and cultural issues. Set against the backdrop of riots surrounding the election of a far-right candidate, this film paints an unflinching look at fascism, and its insidious return to politics, holding up a mirror to French society at the time. This is a theme that remains relevant today, with growing political unrest across the globe and increasingly divisive political candidates returning to far-right rhetoric.
What is interesting about the overall message of the film is the ways in which the men are expendable. Quickly dispatched and hung up to cure, they are the disposable meat. The real focus is on Yasmine and her potential for opening up the shallow gene pool of the family. As we learn, the rest of the women in the family are being forced into childbearing, with disastrous consequences. This is a theme that feels particularly resonant with the recent erosion of women’s rights to bodily autonomy and the growing presence of far-right discourse both online and in our political spaces.
Echoing films like The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1977) we are confronted by a family of cannibals living in rural isolation and satiating their hunger with those traveling through. The idea of danger lurking at the fringes of our communities is not a new one, and it has been fertile ground for many horror films. There is also a wider commentary to be made on the impact of economic disparity, with the family using an abandoned mine as a torture chamber. This calls to mind the meat-rendering plants of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the consequences of social abandonment, economic hardship, and industrial decay.
The Cannibal Family Opens Up a Discussion on Economic Disparity
In Frontier(s), we are also confronted with the fear of the deadly hotel stay, something that has been vividly evoked in numerous films, perhaps most famously by Norman Bates. We see boxes piled high with phones, jewelry, and wallets, indicating that the family has been active for some time, and learn that Eva (Maud Forget) has been a kidnapped casualty of the sinister patriarch von Geiseler’s (Jean-Pierre Jorris) plan to continue the Nazi agenda. The socio-political nature of violence is often explored in French extremity films and in Frontier(s), we are confronted with the consequences of social isolation, and how the Nazi clan has been left on the fringes of wider society, living in rural isolation and have thus been able to remain in a reality that is no longer acceptable in more urban modern settings.
The use of torture and gore in the film is sustained and intense, although, given the development of the torture porn subgenre, it subsequently feels relatively tame by modern standards. However, unlike many of the hollow offerings of the genre, the violence here is wielded with purpose and designed to highlight the destructive nature of hatred. We see how the gang, particularly Farid and Yasmine, are treated as subhuman by the Nazi clan who cling to toxic ideas of racial purity. The ease with which the men in the group are tortured and killed highlights how racism and fascist ideas about the world enable people to engage in acts of evil and wickedness without remorse. When you are convinced in your status as the “master race,” it is much easier to position anyone outside of that as beneath you and therefore worthy of suffering. This mental disconnect is explored within the film, as is the danger of listening to political systems that pit us against each other.
The unfortunate truth is that the message at the heart of Frontier(s) about the dangers of hatred and division is just as relevant now, more than 15 years after its release. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the continued erosion of bodily autonomy, as well as the growing presence of fascist groups in government, it is more important than ever for films to challenge the status quo. Frontier(s) does so in a way that still allows the gorehounds among us to appreciate the bloodshed, mixing in a hefty dose of spatter with its broader social message.