Ed’s Extreme Cinema: Frontier(s)

Frontiers opens to give us a vision of France set in the immediate future amidst rioting and chaos in the build up to, and subsequent election of, an extreme right-wing political party. The story begins to focus on a group of young adults who get split up in the turmoil of the urban landscape. Following a gun fight with the police in which one of their number is shot, they decide to reconvene in the countryside. That’s all you need to know about the build up to Frontiers, it provides an atmospheric backdrop, but ultimately the crux of the film is about the group landing themselves as captives to a family of fascist cannibals!

Of course, the group fleeing the city are variously imprisoned on the family’s estate which consist of an abattoir, disused mine and various farm buildings. One by one they meet their demise until the final showdown.

Frontiers gradually introduces a cast of antagonists within a hierarchical family of Nazi’s with a predilection for human flesh. This point is never pushed too far, the family view their victims as nothing more than the swine they also keep –they are not slavering savages, and the understatement and normality of the cannibalism serves to make it all the more deranged.

It would be unduly critical to worry too much about Frontiers being a French New Wave rip-off of Texas Chainsaw Massacre – it doesn’t matter particularly because it is done very well. Perhaps calling it an homage is more appropriate as it’s not a carbon copy, it just has very similar elements to the 70’s classic. It stands alone just fine and lack of innovation does not necessarily make a film poor – indeed this is a good, solid horror film. Frontiers is well acted and plays out within a depressingly bleak farm complex of filthy outhouses and abattoirs. Empathy with the victims is competently achieved and, vitally for a film like this, it is hard not to wish the worst kind of vengeance on the tormentors.

Most importantly however, Frontiers delivers on the gore and violence. Let’s not be coy, anyone wilfully deciding to watch a film about people being held captive by cannibal fascists is going to be let down by timidity on the directors behalf! Xavier Gens does not disappoint, the violence is graphic and visceral but it happens for a reason and to progress the film, rather than being a collection of set-pieces. Despite featuring people being steamed alive and obliterated with circular saws, everything feels very proportionate within the scenario the viewer is immersed in. We have violence to cringe at and violence to cheer – it’s very satisfying and does not become overwhelming.

What elevates Frontiers above other films of this ilk is the pace in which it races to its conclusion. Once the sprint for the finish begins, this film really lets rip and assaults the senses not just visually but in the tension and excitement it generates. Hope, despair, elation, vengeance, anger, fear – the audience is immersed in all of this amidst a setting of mud, blood and violence.

Does the story end well for our main protagonist? The film is not left hanging open, and it does have a sense of completion, but despite reaching safety of a sort – it is not clear if the survivor truly has found salvation. What price security over freedom?

A Serbian Film (Srpski Film)

It was with an oppressive yet thrilling sense of dread that I anticipated watching A Serbian Film. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film where I have gone into the experience with so many other people’s thoughts, feelings and opinions already in my consciousness, even from those who hadn’t actually seen the film. It’s fair to say that that my feelings of anxiety at what I was about to see were greater than anything actually experienced in the film. That said, it was certainly up there with the nastiest films I’ve watched in a fair while.

A Serbian Film is a very good movie, and given that it is a debut from an independent film maker high praise is due. It won’t happen because of the subject matter, but there can be few movies from relatively inexperienced directors that are this accomplished. I understood the main character (Milos) and strongly sensed his commitment to his family and his desire to be a provider. He knew that he was getting in over his head from the start, but greater was his need to offer his family security; and this is the main plot thrust for the film: Milos has entered into a contract to make an adult film for a life changing sum of money, and life changing it certainly turns out to be.

The set pieces were brilliantly shot, and very unsettling. A lot of this was down to the quality of acting and direction that made me care about Milos and his situation. Srdjan Spasojevic, the director of the film, also scored highly by making me think I was seeing things that I didn’t during the more “boundary pushing” scenes. Often it was the concept of what was occurring on screen that repulsed, rather than any specific image. The now infamous “newborn” scene was a case in point. We didn’t see anything beyond a suggested action, which was vile, but we weren’t privy to the physical details of it.

A lot has been said about the motivation behind making this movie, and its metaphor to the atrocities that occurred in Serbia. It is enough to be told that there is an allegory in the film, it doesn’t have to be obvious. Someone has created art, and stated its motivation. It’s misguided to feel that we need to “get it” further, else all films with that intent will become tediously literal and pedestrian. There were several key pieces of dialogue that did present the metaphor and that was adequate without being intrusive. Further to that, the loss of innocence was a theme that was pervasive throughout; from conversations with Milos’ young son about arousal to the more brutal scenes of deprivation and abuse. Speaking of which…

There is a scene involving a machete and a chained woman which can’t be topped for sheer in-your-face horror, it was the ultimate gore scene.  You could see what was going to happen and it did, viscerally and unflinchingly. As with most things in this film, there is always a little cherry on top – and here a comment is made about enjoying rigamortis and Milos needs to be “disengaged” from the victim by two men (I’ll leave that to your imagination!). It completed the scene, added an extra element of disgust and was also darkly humorous. I’ll avoid any further spoilers, although with all that has been discussed within the horror community I suspect it is too late for that. Suffice to say that the director builds to the horror slowly, but once it arrives there is image after image of unrelenting sadism, gore and violence – every single one with a horrific sexual overtone. We descend with Milos into the absolute depths of depravity and we are not allowed respite until we have completed the experience.

Accompanying these scenes was an extremely effective use of music and sound. Some might find the soundtrack intrusive, but given the intensity of the visual images it added a great deal and needed to be prominent to avoid being lost behind the degeneracy occurring onscreen. Some of the low frequency signal generator noises really heightened the sense of intimidation and fear, they resonated and churned in the gut. It was reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irréversible in this regard, although this is where the comparisons end, as A Serbian Film makes Irréversible look like something from Disney in every other way.

Even though I really liked the film, for want of a better verb, it was the victim of the hype and hysteria surrounding it. Maybe I’ve been desensitized, but I was expecting this to mess me up, and it really didn’t – ultimately it was just another film. I’ve mulled over some of the scenes since watching it, but not much more so than any other well made movie, and the films images haven’t been mentally replayed as part of some kind of brain scarring. I had heard I might want to “unsee” it, but I found it not to be the case as the film was ultimately a worthwhile experience.

Some horror journalists have reviewed this film and advised their readership not to see it, that it would be too much for them, and that they only think they want to watch it. If you are reading this blog, you won’t be patronized in this way. You are a horror fan and you understand that this film has a visual power that will shock you. Be prepared for some unsettling images, but I recommend this film to you if extreme cinema is your thing. Of course, if you found Twilight heavy going (or even watched it) you might want to stay away from this one.

In conclusion, it was stylish but with substance; viscerally violent and depraved but with justification. The horror, and the nature of the horror, is some of the most extreme you’ll ever see but this is built up to with a delicate touch. It is a really good film from a director I’ll be interested in following. It will deeply upset many, but for most of the modern genre audience, and that’s you, as nasty as it is it will not deliver on its notoriety, which is a shame because there is more to the film than simply trying to endure its horror. More importantly though, A Serbian Film represents the rarest of treats to the horror fan: a film that we are actually nervous about watching – and for some scenes at least, you are wise to be worried.

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