So Frontier(s), a movie hyped by some and despised by others, a movie directed by the person responsible for Hitman (which hasn’t proved so popular here at Geek, but which I got a retro 80s kick out of) and a movie that seemed to be trying to unashamedly outdo all other torture splatter flicks without even batting an eyelid. And how did it fair? Actually it was a movie split right down the middle.
Like so many recent horror films (most of which I’ve reviewed on here) it seemed to be unable to stay consistent with its strengths and fell far too hard on so many plot devices and clichés that made watching parts of it so familiar as to be almost pantomime in their execution.
The thing is that I had a lot of fun with the first half of the film; sure it suffered from the usual reliance on overly stylised action sequences, but the camera was well behaved for everything else. The lead characters were engaging and I found myself quite involved in their escape from the suburbs into the countryside, as the film starts with them all dealing with the aftermath of a robbery, while setting the backdrop as being a fascist-run state. Even when the first of them reach a hostel which includes free sex (oh yes this film’s simultaneous strength and weakness is its total disregard for subtlety), there were still hints at something beyond the obvious “we’ll just torture and kill you because we’re crazy country folk”, but the more the film reveals its mysteries the weaker and more hackneyed it becomes.
I found myself really hoping that Frontier(s) would let the characters escape initial threat and try to keep them stuck within the vast grounds that the hostel exists on and in, so instead of just killing them off in nasty ways the film would play out as a hide and seek horror. Indeed two of them do escape initially and appear to have avoided capture while stumbling onto an entirely different form of threat in an abandoned mine shaft (one of the films’ best scenes, which aimed somewhere between Silent Hill and The Descent, but still worked for me mostly due to the role reversal between the two characters), but it wasn’t long before the more familiar story strands took hold.
I am getting really tired of crazy inbred families. They seem to be fucking everywhere (sorry, bad joke). There really isn’t much you can do with them anymore, in Frontier(s)‘ case just throwing in a bit of Nazi sympathising wasn’t really going to add to the evilness of a family who are already soulless cannibals, so why bother trying to spend half the film with them? I can’t fault the performances, but unless the characters are made to be enigmatic or funny, you just find yourself trying to figure out how and when they will get the punishment they deserve, or if they’ll get to live – in which you case you have to go and punch something out of frustration.
It’s not just the characters that lack humour; the film itself seems to forget the parts of it which are entertaining. On the one hand the film contains such joyously over-the-top gore that I found myself laughing, but then other token shock moments seemed so lazy that I failed to feel anything. If you have engaging leads chatting away and enduring fright together, you find yourself involved and can share in their nervous journey – if it’s yet another tortured woman screaming, or sat around a table sobbing while surrounded with a family of inbred loons, it’s not fun, it’s tired. Even watching the teaser trailers featured on the DVD, which had a nice dark sense of humour, it still seemed unclear if the film itself was supposed to be playing up those elements or trying for more shock value based on the strength of the violence.
The violence also has the alarming tendency to cease to be shocking in its repetition, for example a woman finds herself being punched hard in the face (having already been knocked about, crawled through pig shit, having her head smashed repeatedly into a car dashboard etc.) by which point she has suffered enough. At the point before the punch hit I thought something was going to prevent it, but no, then there was a second punch lined up – same thought – but no. I didn’t find myself getting upset, I found myself getting angry that what I was seeing was unpleasant and unnecessary, without actually being a surprise, but then her payback on him went back to being over the top horror death in the best tradition and while I appreciate there’s a fine line between the two, it was still a little jarring that the balance kept being upset.
And so the film continues through the latter half after an initially interesting start, it wastes the good characters it’s spent time developing too quickly in the name of shock (and yes, I hate to use that word so much in one review but that’s the film’s only core premise and, for the record, the most shocking part you’ve already seen in Hostel); for every aspect that seems promising there’s a handful of ‘seen it before’ moments waiting to run them down and for every over the top moment of horror kitsch (“ha mud wrestling!”) there’s an awful moment of sombre seriousness to throw it off balance.
I really enjoyed the first half of the film and would at a push give four stars; the second half was very weak so consequently as a whole I’d give it two and half, but as there are no half stars… tricky… it might be a little harsh, but two stars for wasting its promising leads and with them any hope at originality it might have had.
The special features don’t add much to the package. The teaser trailers as mentioned above are fun, but essentially give the films’ best moments away. The original trailer contains the same mix of humour and gore that the film contains, but in a much better expressed form ironically. The ‘making of’ (16.18) is only roughly chopped together behind-the-scenes footage of how they achieved and rehearsed the films’ most gory scenes, but contains no talking heads or commentary of any sort, so fails to be that enlightening, which was a shame bearing in mind how much work went into them.
Frontier(s) is out now.