Frontiers Review

Prompted by Nicolas Sarkozy’s interventions into the urban riots in 2007, Xavier Gens horror movie crawls out on to R2 DVD. John White is seriously impressed.

The Film

For the first time in many years, the far right has gained a foothold in many local councils around England. In recent memory, former Nazis have become President of Austria and well I won’t mention the Pope, Le Pen still calls on mighty support in France, and the extreme right is far from dead across the western world. In times where national boundaries are challenged by free trade and mass immigration, and with a economic slump coming, Fascists can reach out to those who feel disenfranchised and their electoral success forces the parties of the centre to compete with their policies. Progressive parties of the centre must get the votes of those charmed by the simple logic of blaming the foreigners and the vandals, whilst appealing to those with liberal beliefs about diversity and modernity. Schism becomes inevitable with the fascists fanning the flames, and the centrists pandering to bigots. I mention this because Xavier Gens’ horror movie does. There are explicit schisms in the society on show, left and right, town and country, the old French and the new French. These schisms are, of course, exaggerated to create the driving balls to the wall horror that makes this film such a terrific experience, the best visceral horror movie since Haute Tension. The schisms can also be read politically, with the urbanised part Arab misadventurers fighting the neo-Nazi country folk, and the narrative definitely creates links to an extreme right wing president being elected who is rather short and used to be a minister of the interior(now I wonder who they mean). Reading the film in this political way gives the final scene an added ambiguity that I’ll allow others to reflect on rather than give anything away.

This political dimension is sweet candy to types like myself who enjoy a bit of subtext, but for the less pinko inclined amongst you, I need to report that this is the bloodiest and sickest competent horror that there has been for a few years. I did love 28 Weeks Later last year but that was not the gross out that this film manages with incest, in-breeding, cannibalism, sledgehammers, band-saws, meat hooks and the most sickening forced kiss you could ever expect to see. It does owe some pretty obvious dues to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for its sicko family and their foul mealtimes, to The Descent for a claustrophobic tunneling sequence and to many more horror flicks that I could mention too. The film I would most compare Frontiers with would be Eli Roth’s Hostel. Where that film denied any moral context, this film is hungry to place the action in the real world. Where Roth served up T&A and bodily gore as the payoff, here Gens mixes the gore with psychological and political obscenity. Where Roth’s film happened in a never never land that would disappear from your mind when you left the cinema, Gens’ film suggests that this kind of horror is the corollary of the civilised world most of us live in. Whilst I like Roth’s film more than most, Xavier Gens has delivered something that is both more intelligent and more passionate.

Some questions will come to you after the experience of watching like what kind of rural farm has an underground bunker beneath it, and you will wonder why machine guns are kept on a farm(rioting chickens perhaps), but, given how heightened and terrible events are, you may not notice this at the time. The city slickers who find themselves in deep trouble with this Nazi family are not the most likable bunch and their horde of stolen money may make you less inclined to care about them as they are dispatched, but again the velocity of the violence and the never-ending nightmare approach should ensure that you are too lost in events to look for sympathetic characters.Frontiers entertained me royally and the ride was compelling until the very end. The final ten minutes become hyperbolic, and the constant shaky-cam may irritate but I was as closed to scared watching it as I have been in years. Last year’s Hitman was coolly received, and savaged by Mike in these parts, but this is much better and much more exciting film-making from Xavier Gens whose future work will be worth keeping an eye on if this is evidence of what he can do with a free hand and personal inspiration. The passion, the carnage and the visual onslaught is unrelenting, and the film never misses a trick in assailing the viewer and keeping them on edge throughout. Frontiers is one of the best films I have seen this year.

The Disc

Optimum present the main feature with a partially animated menu and forced trailers of Welcome to the Jungle, Storm Warning and Switchblade Romance aka Haute Tension. The film based special features include footage of location shooting which is presented with optional English subs, but no narration or interviews are offered as part of this Making of featurette. This piece concludes with the director being doused in fake blood and fluids by the staff. Some effective teaser trailers use individual scenes from the film with clever marketing slogans and the theatrical trailer is also included here. The video quality of the extras is very good but the teaser trailers are presented non-anamorphically.The A/V quality is jolly good with this very dark, mostly night time set film having excellent contrast and without high levels of film grain. Colours are carefully represented, edges are not excessive and detail is very rich indeed. The fact that the action is always frighteningly clear adds to the fear factor and this transfer is also at the OAR. The pounding, oppressive score is mixed well with voices and effects in the 5.1 track, and whilst the sound design is not intricate, the mix creates the dank depths of the bunker and manages the scares whether they are face on or coming from around the rear and side channels. The scene in the tunnel is claustrophobic and oppressive as the LFE track cranks up the limited environment, and the subterranean scenes are as strong as the open air climax with the gunfire and destruction all encompassing but the dialogue never lost. I did not notice any issues with mastering or source, and this is a very strong aggressive accompaniment to a visceral heart pumping film. The English subtitles carry one typo that I noticed but the translation for the most part is easily understood and appropriate to the tone of the original soundtrack.


This was one hell of a ride that, bar its cinematic pinching and some silliness in the ending, is superb modern horror. Not a lot of extras here but you will appreciate this fine transfer from Optimum.

John White

Updated: Jul 12, 2008

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