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Frontier(s) (2007)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/13/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/15/2008

Question: Is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a classic film? Answer: Yes. I'm not 100% sure if it was the very first "urban travelers are trapped and killed by country psychos" movie, but it's certainly the most well-known of this subgenre and the most influential. Since the release of TCM in 1974, there have been hundred of films which feature this same basic premise. Even with the trendy nature of horror films, one can easily find a clone of this classic film being released on a consistent basis. And while many of these films have been set in rural America, now the Europeans on getting in on the action more than ever. I just reviewed the abysmal The Cottage from Britain, will the French export Frontier(s) fare any better?

Frontier(s) opens in Paris on election day. The elections have sparked riots throughout the city. Five young people, Yasmine (Karina Testa), Alex (Aurelien Wiik), Tom (David Saracino), Farid (Chems Dahmani), and Sami (Adel Bencherif), have apparently committed some sort of crime (they have a bag of money, but we're never told what happened) and are fleeing from the police. Sami is shot in the process. Yasmine and Alex take Sami to the hospital, while Farid and Tom leave the city. They plan to meet later and head for Holland. Tom and Farid arrive at an isolated hotel and decide to rest for the night. There, they are greeted by Gilberte (Estelle Lefebure) and Klaudia (Amelie Daure), who ply the boys with sex and drinks. All seems well until Tom and Farid meet the rest of the family and it becomes clear that there's something odd happening at the inn. As Yasmine and Alex travel to join their companions, they have no idea that they are entering a den of violence and depravity from which there is no escape.

OK, I'm officially asking for a moratorium on Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-offs, homages, tributes, wannabes, or whatever you want to call them, because I think we've reached the end of the line. Again, these movies have been around for year, but they would usually attempt to add something different to try and shake up the formula, be that a desert locale (The Hills Have Eyes), a tree-top chase (Wrong Turn), or mannequins (Tourist Trap). The basic formula may have been the same, but those movies tried to add a little something to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately, no effort is made to make Frontier(s) stand out from the crowd.

Let's do the checklist: Isolated, rural locale? Check. Urban travelers? Check. Urban travelers who are overly zealous about something (in the case of Tom, it's sex)? Check. Attractive female who comes on to strangers way too strong, but the strangers, being men, don't question it? Check. Bald, fat guy who doesn't talk, but loves to kill? Old man who leads the clan? Check. Meek young girl who secretly wants to help the strangers? Check. (The girl in this one may as well have been Ruby from The Hills Have Eyes.) Violence and cannibalism? Check. Yes, Frontier(s) meets all of the criteria for a true Texas Chainsaw Massacre hoe-down and it never misses an opportunity to wallow in the genres trapping. (And, for good measure, one could easily say that the film borrows from Hostel as well.)

Writer/director Xavier Gens doesn't do a thing to make Frontier(s) original. That's clearly not a compliment, but that would be OK if the movie stood out in any other way, but it doesn't. Gens direction is never sloppy per se, but there's nothing interesting in the way that he shoots the film. The movie is also too long. Again, following the familiar pattern, there's not much story here beyond tourists arrive at destination, realize that locals are nutso, people die. Stretching this thumbnail sketch of a plot out to 108 minutes was a huge mistake. Not only does the lack of story make the film drag, but the film's copycat nature does as well. Because the movie does nothing original, I knew what was going to happen next, and thus the movie seemed to drag. The film is violent and gory, but none of the murders are particularly interesting. The one intriguing facet of the story, concerning a group of individual who live in an abandoned mine, is never explored.

I can't say that I had my hopes up for Frontier(s), but I was interested the movie for two reasons. First, because Gens was tapped to direct the disappointing Hitman, and I wanted to see what had caught the eye of the producers of that film. Secondly, I had expected more from a foreign film. (Although, I don't know why. As I mentioned in my review for the superior Inside, French films have let me down in the past.) All of those foreign film snobs out there need to take their noses out of the air for a moment and agree with me on one thing: When it comes to certain genres, Americans simply do it better, and the "attacked by country crazies" category is one of them.

Frontier(s) goes for a leisurely drive in the country courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, as it is free from overt grain and defects from the source material. The image is somewhat dark however, and given that this is already a dark movie, that doesn't help matters much. That darkness is unfortunately paired with an allover flat look. The film is somewhat monochromatic, but the colors which do appear look fine. I noted some video noise in certain shots. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 track of the original French audio. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are quite good and the action sequences produce some nice surround sound, especially during a car chase sequence. The "thuds" of hits emanate well from the subwoofer.

There are no bonus features on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long