By the time "Frontier(s)" was over my teeth really hurt. That was because I kept clenching them during the moments in this French horror film (the correct spelling of which would be "Frontière(s)"). This 2007 film is being promoted as the ninth of the 8 films 2 die 4 for last year's After Dark Horrorfest, because when it earned an NC-17 rating in the States it had to be pulled from the lineup. So it has the whole vibe of being too much horror for Horrorfest, which means the expectations are pretty high when you sit down to watch this one. On the other hand, the second crop of Horrorfest films were rather disappointing so you figure this one has to be an improvement, and the good news is that it certainly delivers. I am not the sort to close my eyes while watching the gory parts of movies (although I did close one of them in sympathetic reaction to the opening game of "Saw II"), which is why I went the clenched teeth part. A bad case of the measles as a child took out some of the calcium in my permanent teeth, so I am surprised some of them did not crack.
France is in the throes of some political upheaval having to do with the election of a hard line government, and while a century ago this might have sent young people to the barricades, in these trouble times they turn to crime. With the cops on their trail they decide to hole up in this filthy little bed and breakfast. This, of course, turns out to be a really bad mistake, and while the victims are not deserving of our sympathy on the basis of their characters, they are the hope of the future compared to their tormentors. There is really nothing more to say in laying out the plot, because you should just enjoy the ride, if you sense of the word "enjoy" encompasses what happens in this film. The film breaks down into three acts and how much you like the movie will probably come down to whether you think the final act tops the second.
Writer-director Xavier Gens ("Hitman") gets the credit for coming up with all this sick stuff, but credit also goes to cinematographer Laurent Barès, who gives the film is visual style, and especially film editor Carlo Rizzo, who crafts some moments of bizarre beauty through his creative use of montage. A few horror films of recent vintage have attempted to be "arty," and "Frontier(s)" certainly has some moments where you can argue it is cinema rather than just a horror movie.
The obvious cinematic touchstone here is supposed to be "Hostel," but I was reminded more of the original version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." You will pick up echoes from a lot of other films, but it speaks to the film that I never got the feeling this was a pastiche. I still think "Wolf Creek" is at the top of the list for the torture-porn genre, although I am sure I have not seen everything that is out there. But "Frontier(s)" is closer to that than it is to the "Hostel" movies or "The Saw Trilogy," where there are mystery element in play that divert your from the blood, guts, and whatnot. This is just one of those bloody movies where you wait to see if anybody is going to get out alive.
All I can say now is: What a difference a movie makes. "Frontier(s)" was replaced in the Horrorfest 2007 lineup by "Unearthed," which means that what would have been my highest rated one of the 8 films 2 die 4 was replaced by the one I rated the lowest (although you have to grant that they were right not to have included "Unearthed" in the first place). The original Horrorfest lineup earned an average rating of 3.7 from me and this year's were a step lower at 3.0; but replace "Unearthed" with "Frontier(s)") and the average jumps to 3.4. I had sworn that next year I would rent the Horrorfest movies rather than go ahead and buy them when they came out on DVD (we did not get the festival the second time around), but I am glad I saw enough of the buzz about "Frontier(s)" to go ahead and pick it up. The only real complaint is that there are no DVD extras. Final Note: I wonder if the people behind the After Dark Horrorfest have noticed that their best flicks are being made in foreign lands, because that's certainly what has happened so far.