After Dark Horrorfest was an annual U.S. festival that ran from 2006-2015, featuring original films that were subsequently released to home video. The 2007 offerings included Frontier(s), the first feature by French filmmaker Xavier Gens, which was pulled from the festival after it was slapped with an NC-17 rating (it was subsequently released in theaters). However, Frontier(s) was included with the group of annual releases.
I saw it, and never forgot it.
Since then, director Gens had his first American film release with Hitman starring Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood & Justified), a violent thriller based on a video game.
Though Gens did not have another big-screen film until 2011’s The Divide, he currently has two films scheduled for release: The Crucifixion and Cold Skin. His films are not to everyone’s taste and The Divide in particular was negatively received by many reviewers, but he is no hack. Often unsettling, yes, but that’s the nature of his specialty.
A Gallic riff on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the opening titles of Frontier(s) feature a close-up of a sonogram. A speaker identifies herself as Yasmine, three months pregnant. “One day, someone said: Men are born free with equal rights. The world in which I live is the opposite. Who would want to be born to grow in the chaos and the hate?” she asks.
Then we have a close-up of the young woman announcing that she does not intend to have the child, followed by a quick cut revealing her face covered in blood.
Amid political riots, four young Parisians find themselves on the run after a robbery. Splitting up after agreeing to meet somewhere in the north (the frontier of the title), Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani) find themselves at a remote homestead. They soon wish they hadn’t. Yasmine (Karina Testa) and Alex (Aurélien Wiik), the father of her unborn child, arrive a bit later in the night, with the same quick regrets.
The family, it turns out, are vicious Nazi cannibals. Presided over by a terrifying father (Jean-Pierre Jorris), replete with starched uninform and Luger, the clan includes a hulking butcher, two “normal-looking” brothers, a couple of women who might be sisters and one abductee who has become the family breeder. Her children prowl the cellars.
Obsessed with “pure blood” as a means of strengthening the line, “Father” welcomes the pregnant Yasmine into their brood, while her companions become hors d’oeuvres. The second half of the film focuses on Yasmine’s struggles to escape.
Gruesome and graphic, Frontier(s) is more than just exploitation: It’s not hard to detect the political/social context that makes the grotesque human monsters the allegorical embodiment of fascism.
Frontier(s) is also unrelenting in its depiction of the barbarity and savagery of the human animal, and far bleaker than most such films. Testa as Yasmine is put through the wringer—her hair is slashed off and she is alternately coated in mud and blood. Like Marilyn Burns in the original Chainsaw Massacre, Yasmine is a gutsy survivor, the film’s only beacon of shell-shocked hope at the end of the film.
The Divide is even grimmer and more realistic. No nutso Nazis cannibals here, just a bunch of ordinary folks trying desperately to survive. Like Frontier(s), whose opening featured a close-up of the female protagonist, The Divide begins with a close-up of Eva (Lauren German) staring out the window of a Manhattan high-rise as the city skyscrapers—reflected in her eyes—begin to explode and burn, the results of a nuclear war.
Together with eight other former residents, Eva and her boyfriend/husband make it through a crowd and into the basement where the building’s janitor and maintenance man (Michael Biehn) has been planning for just such an event. There they all stay growing ever more vicious and depraved, denizens of this underground hell who mirror the wasteland above.
As he did in Frontier(s), the director puts his gutsy cast through what must have been a meat grinder of a shoot. Roseanna Arquette, playing a mother who goes off the deep end when her child is taken from her, is horrifically brutalized. In turn, the brutes (played by Milo Ventimiglia and Ashton Holmes) end up shaving their heads like Yasmine, and Holmes is shown wearing a filthy slip as all restraints and basic humanity collapse.
Unlike other apocalyptic films (like those of Roland Emmerich), Xavier Gens does not make the end of the world fun to watch, but it does remain very compelling to do so.