Horror is a genre of options.
It can be based in reality or operate in the purely fantastic. It can rely on an antagonist or utilize atmosphere as a means of inspiring fear. It can be played for laughs, done with a straight face, present a sexual subtext, even reflect grace and beauty. The options are without limit and it would be hard to find another type of picture, outside of the erotic, that features so many sub-categories and offshoots. That being said, it’s startling how few modern horror films take advantage of the endless realm of possibility, instead leaning on the achievements of their forebearers, as if to benefit through association.
Frontière(s) is one of these gutless attempts, never stepping out of the shadow of its chief influencer and cowering in fear at the thought of coloring in its insipid attempts at political and racial commentary. It’s a pointless exercise in convention, aimed squarely at an audience far too familiar with this motif.
The story opens on France in a state of chaos. As a fundamentalist right-wing government takes office, the public riots, depicted in a mélange of jumpy fictional footage and stock news clippings. Yasmine, our protagonist and reluctant future parent, runs from police, seeking shelter for her wounded brother who’s steadily losing consciousness. To make matters worse, her violent baby daddy and his crew of ne’er-do-wells are en route, hashing a plan to transport a copious amount of stolen cash to the French-German border.
Though Alex is a brute, capable of both beating a cop bloody and comparing a dying man to a used tampon, he concedes, driving Yas and her brother to the hospital while his criminal counterparts (Tom and Farid) make a dash for greener pastures. As the sun fades and tensions run high, the pair decide to stop at a hostel for a little R&R, only to be greeted by a suspiciously flirtatious pair of sisters and their hulking brother, who passes his time brutally skinning a buck on the kitchen table.
If just hearing this description threw up a red flag in your mind, prepare to roll your eyes when the boys overlook the staff’s dubious behavior and decide to book a room. By the time they witness and shirk off the family grandmother regurgitating dinner through a tracheotomy tube in her neck, mild frustration will turn to rage, due in equal parts to anemic writing and blatant plagiarism (see Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
Every tired cliché gets trotted out for a victory lap. The secret room filled with passports and cell phones, half-dead victims hung from meat hooks, the sadistic patriarch, the “final girl,” fetishistic Nazi imagery…
But wait, isn’t this all intended as some sort of political statement, paralleling right-wing conservatism to fascistic hate mongering? Possibly in more capable hands, but any flirtation with social importance is just a cop out, intended to disguise Frontière(s) true intentions. This is a splatter film dressed as satire, too callow and weak to take a shot at the powers that be and far too restrained to function as transgressive horror.
Frontière(s) (Lionsgate Films, 2007)
Written and Directed by Xavier Gens
Photographed by Laurent Barès