★★★ / ★★★★
Yasmine (Karina Testa), Farid (Chems Dahmani), Alex (Aurélien Wiik), and Tom (David Saracino) escape from Paris as the city thrusted in a state of turmoil after it was announced that a right-wing extremist won the presidential election. The four also happen to have stolen money from an unnamed source. The plan is to allow Yasmine and Alex to catch up so Farid and Tom find refuge in a hostel located in a rural area. At first, the people who run the hostel seem interested in acquiring the bag of cash. However, they turn out to be a family of murderous neo-Nazis and what they want from their guests is something more disturbing than what any of them can imagine.
Written and directed by Xavier Gens, “Frontière(s)” has elements of extreme horror, some scenes almost bordering “torture porn,” but it is able to transcend some typicalities despite the final product being somewhat uneven. There is a grisliness to the material but it is not soaked in cynicism. It entertains because it keeps us on our toes–ready to look away when we start to have that special feeling in our gut that something is about to happen.
The road to the core of what the story is really about is tortuously slow. In its attempt to get us to care more about the four main characters, a political backdrop is introduced. Five minutes into it, the politics begin to feel like an awkward foreign appendage–its presence too forced for the sake of having a unique spin on the genre.
By the end, the relationship between a conservative president being elected and the discovery of the neo-Nazi family is not fleshed out enough. It appears as though the writer-director wished to make a statement about the two camps but he does not draw enough parallels to get us to think critically or care. I wished he would drop the pretension and just make a straightforward horror movie about survival.
The film excels in delivering thrills. With movies of its type, like Eli Roth’s “Hostel” and Marcus Nispel’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” both bathing in unabashed violence, we almost expect the characters to drop one by one in such a hackneyed manner. Halfway into it, while each of them has experienced all sorts of hell, not one of them is dead. This is a good decision because the material has opened itself up for possibilities. While Yasmine and Alex are trapped and forced to interact with members of the twisted family, Farid and Tom explore the underground caverns and discover the clan’s dark secrets.
As the film jumps from one situation to another, tension reaches a peak and teases until it is no longer bearable. For instance, as Farid and Tom squirm their way through an opening, we see that there are bloodstains along the rocky ceiling. Neither Farid nor Tom, the latter leading the way, has touched those areas so we know that the blood did not come from them. It suggests they are not the first to take the same path. Neither of them notice what we see because the crawlspace is so limited and dark. In addition, Farid gets sneaky suspicion that someone might be following them.
While the picture uses violence to entertain, I did not find it to be meaninglessly gratuitous. Yasmine eventually finds herself cornered by the brutish Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan) while being surrounded by rotting human flesh hung from hooks. He picks her up by the neck with his left hand, makes a giant fist with his right, and strikes her face with it. It is supposed to be ugly and brutal. And yet the most critical piece is not violence but that our sympathy is always with Yasmine, never with the assailant, because prior to the confrontation, we have learned who she is and what it is that she fights for. We root for her and her friends to live.