A Look Back at Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s)

It’s been over a decade since the emergence and popularity of the French Extremity horror films.  Today, films like High Tension, Martyrs, and Inside are generally considered classics of the 21st Century by horror fans, and the directors, especially Alexandre Aja and Pascal Laugier, have gone on to have successful careers as  directors. When looking back on the last decade and the success of these films, there should be more attention given to Xavier Gens’ 2007 film Frontier(s), which accurately predicted and responded to the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.

The term the New French Extremity was first coined by Artforum critic James Quandt, and while it may be impossible to fully define the term or this particular style of cinema, film blogger Matt Smith once said that this wave of films does have two common themes: home invasion and/or fear of the Other.

The second theme is especially applicable to Frontier(s), which opens in Paris, torn apart by riots due to the election of a far-right candidate to the presidency. The rest of the film focuses on a group of four Muslim teens who plan to run away from Paris to Amsterdam with a bag full of robbed money.  Two of them, Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani), decide to stop in a b & b, where they encounter neo-Nazis/cannibals. Eventually, the remaining teens, Alex (Aurelien Wiik) and Yasmine (Karina Testa), go looking for their missing friends at the b & b, and from there, things don’t go well. More specifically, the cannibal family’s patriarch and former SS officer, Le Von Geisler, wants to make Yasmine a mother for the new Aryan race.

Like other French Extremity films, Frontier(s) is seeped in heavy gore and violence, similar to some of the American horror films of the early 2000s, such as Saw and Hostel. The cannibal Nazis, meanwhile, are Gens’ nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and grindhouse films of the 1970s, especially some of the dinner scenes.

Yet, looking back at the film over a decade later, it’s the political backdrop that stands out. In an interview with the website Horror Pilot, Gems described his influence for the film, stating, “I started to think about the story in 2002 during the presidential elections in France. When the extreme right arrive in the second turn, I got really scared. And that gave me the idea of the film.”

This fear is obvious in the opening minutes, which features cops dressed in riot gear, protestors flooding the streets of Paris, and sheer chaos of tear gas and bullets that forces the group of four Muslim friends to flee the country. The sadistic cannibals are a reminder of how the old ghosts and ideas of white supremacy still linger, to the point that a living  Nazi war criminal is the one who orchestrates the events, including the severe torture that occurs in underground chambers. The film features other torture too, including a scene in which the family feeds pork to Tom and Farid, suspecting that they are Muslim.

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Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani) sitting down for dinner with the Nazi cannibals

When the film was released, the reviews were mixed. Writing for Slant Magazine, Ed Gonzalez had this to say:

The film unspools as a seizure-inducing succession of nonstop screaming, references to horror-film freakouts old and new, and slick market-tested shocks, beginning with a protest rally in the wake of the election of a French right-wing nut and ending with Karina Testa’s Last Girl Standing “escaping” from an inn where a deranged posse of cannibalistic neo-Nazis is trying to renew the blood of their family. It sounds enticing, but Gens’s engagement with the contemporary racial discord currently tearing at France’s bowels isn’t sincere but rather a transparent ploy to give the film a sense of gravitas.

Looking back, the political turmoil evident in Gems’ film, especially the opening sequence, does seem sincere. As he said in the interview with Horror Pilot, he was inspired to create the film after the election results of 2002 and the rise of the far-right. Beyond that, the film’s opening predicted the turmoil that would consume Europe over the next several years and the rise of the AdF Party in Germany, Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party in France, and the authoritarian regimes that have swept power in Poland, Hungary, and most recently, Italy. The fear of the Other by white Europeans, underscored to the extreme by the cannibalistic neo-Nazis, foreshadowed the immigration crisis that would consume the EU for the next decade.

The power that Le Von Geisler  wields over the family is also built on abuse towards women. Two of the family’s members, Gilberte (Estelle Lefebure) and Klaudia (Amelie Daure), are forced to offer sex to any brown-skinned newcomers that stumble upon their b & b. This is a way to convince them to stay, and early in the film, the friends discover several passports belonging to others that were kidnapped, tortured, and cooked. Yasmina, meanwhile, is only spared when it’s discovered she’s pregnant and the Nazis find a use for her in their desire to create the master race. It should be noted that Yasmina is one of the strongest Final Girls in any of the French Extremity films, enduring countless waves of torture, including watching her friends and boyfriend die, and yet enduring and resisting such a brutal form of patriarchy.

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Frontier(s) feels eerily relevant a decade after its release. From the opening scenes of unrest in Europe, to the female protagonist’s survival against a relentless patriarchy, the film is one of the real standouts of the French Extremity films from the last decade. It was speaking to issues that would only become more prevalent in the years following its release.

 

 

No Oscar Nomination for Toni Collette/The Horror Genre?

2018 was another strong year for horror. There were several indie films that made waves, such as Mandy, Terrified, and Revenge, but two films specifically broke into the mainstream, generated buzz and conversation, and were deserving of the Academy’s attention.  I am talking about A Quiet Place and Hereditary. Both films were snubbed, though A Quiet Place did earn a nomination for Sound Editing. That said, I’m not surprised that the horror genre has once again been shut out of the awards season, even if the genre has been earning more and more attention over the last five years or so. Last year, I argued that Get Out deserved Oscar nominations, and it did receive a few, including Best Picture. Jordan Peele, meanwhile, won an Oscar for the screenplay. When writing about Get Out, I noted that very, very few horror films have ever won an Oscar. The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture in 1992. The Exorcist was nominated for several Oscars, but only scored two for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.

A Quiet Place is at least deserving of a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, which was penned by John Krasinski. The film is one of the most innovative horror movies of the last decade, a metaphor on grief and losing a child. While the film may not be the first to use sound, or a lack of sound, so effectively in the genre (think Hush or Don’t Breathe), it does so in a way that makes us really feel for the family, especially after the tragedy that occurs within the first fifteen minutes. Additionally, the film contains strong performances by Krasinski and Emily Blunt, who do everything they can as parents to keep their children safe and alive. We generally want them to survive, especially after they endure one calamity after another.

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(Toni Collette as Annie in Hereditary)

Hereditary is a much more difficult film to watch. It begins with a funeral for the family’s matriarch, and within the first half an hour, it takes a sudden twist with the loss of another major character. Yet, it’s one of the strongest portrayals of grief that I’ve ever seen on film, let alone the horror genre. Furthermore, Toni Collette’s performance as Annie is never-jangling. Her facial expressions alone are powerful and unnerving. She is a mother who can’t take anymore loss. Additionally, I think the film should have received nominations for Best Director (Ari Aster), Best Original Screenplay, and perhaps, maybe even Best Picture. Yet, it was totally shut out…

So, after giving a single Oscar to Jordan Peele last year, which was well-deserved, it looks like the Academy is back to ignoring the horror genre. Meanwhile, fans can continue enjoying the state of horror right now because there’s a lot to be excited about, even if the Academy doesn’t think so. Horror is having a moment.

What do you think about the Oscar nominations? Were A Quiet Place and Hereditary deserving of the Academy’s attention? Feel free to let me know what you think.

List of Oscar nominees.

 

 

 

Writer’s Showcase: All-Female/Winter Edition

The next installment of the Writer’s Showcase at the Olde Brick Theater in Scranton will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. This one will be the annual all-female Showcase, featuring live readings of poetry and prose by Kimberly Boland, Aurora Bonner, Rachael Hughes, Laurel Radzieski, and Alyssa Waugh.

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Author bios:

Kimberly Boland writes poetry, prose, and drama. She is a recent graduate of Keystone College, where she received her bachelor’s of arts degree in Communication Arts and Humanities, and she’s continuing her studies at Gonzaga University where she has just begun her master’s of arts degree in Communication and Leadership Studies. She lives in North Abington Township in her beloved farmhouse home with her cherished, loving family, and her hobbies include tabletop board gaming, swing dancing, listening to audio dramas, and being active in her synagogue’s community. Her first prose poetry chapbook, titled Maybe This Is It, an analysis and reflection on overcoming destruction, told through a feminist lens, came out in 2017 and she hopes to follow it up with a sequel of equally autobiographical poems soon.

Aurora D. Bonner is an environmentally driven writer and artist living in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. She is a regular review contributor for the Colorado Review and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Assay: Journal of Nonfiction, Under the Gum Tree, and Hippocampus Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Follow her @aurora_bonner or aurorabonner.com for more information.

Rachael J. Hughes writes with retractable, comfort-grip PaperMate Ink Joy pens in groovy hues. She was founder of Word Fountain and earned her Creative Writing MFA at the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. She strives to make the world laugh, heal, and love books. She is the author of Us Girls: My Life Without a Uterus. She writes and resides in Central Pennsylvania with her family, including four cats. Check out her musical musings at: http://kindalikeapoet.wordpress.com.

Laurel Radzieski’s debut poetry collection, Red Mother, was published by NYQ Books in 2018. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and her BA from Keystone College. She has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Wormfarm Institute and is a poetry editor for Clockhouse. Laurel’s poems has appeared in The Golden Key, Really System, The Slag Review and elsewhere, including on roadsides in rural Wisconsin. She has worn many hats in the theatre and can often be found writing on-the-spot poems for strangers at local events. Laurel lives in Scranton with her husband and a fish named Buddy.

Alyssa Waugh is the editor of I AM STRENGTH: True Stories of Everyday Superwomen and the author of Hell’s Laughter and Other Spooky Tales. Her short stories have been published in Beyond Science Fiction Literary Magazine, her poetry has been featured on Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and she won first place in Inkitt’s Running Scared Horror Writing Contest. She is a manuscript reader for the James Jones Novel Writing Competition, a copy editor for Etruscan Press, and teaches creative writing classes at King’s College and fiction workshops at Wilkes University where she received her M.F.A. These days she spends most of her time as the Editor in Chief of Blind Faith Books and trying to write without her cats stealing her pens. You can learn more about her at alyssawaugh.com and blindfaithbooks.com.

Check out the Facebook event page for additional info.

Horror in 2019

Happy 2019!

With 2018 behind us, let’s look at some of the horror films dropping in 2019.

US

Slated for release on March 15, this is probably the year’s most anticipated horror film, especially after the success of 2017’s Get Out, which earned Jordan Peele an Oscar. While Get Out had some comedic beats, especially in the first half, US looks more like a straight-up horror film, with echoes of The Strangers and Funny Games, at least judging from the trailer.

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, it was reported that Peele had US star Lupita Nyong’o watch a list of horror films to prepare for her role. This list only adds to the excitement and features pretty diverse selections, everything from Let the Right One In to The Birds.

Pet Cemetery

The last few years have featured a serious resurgence of interest and fandom in Stephen King, both on the big and small screens, so it’s no surprise that one of King’s most popular novels is getting another adaptation. The latest  is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and written by Jeff Buhler. It stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, and John Lithgow. The trailer looks promising, and the film will be out in April.

 

The Prodigy

I’m unsure what to think about this film. Based on the trailer, it looks like it could be decent. Director Nicholas McCarthy does have experience in the horror genre. He was a writer for 2012’s The Pact and 2014’s At the Devil’s Door, and he directed a segment for 2016’s horror anthology Holidays. Maybe The Prodigy will be another solid entry into the creepy kid subgenre of horror,  a la The Omen. Who knows, but we’ll see once the film drops in February.

 

The Curse of La Llorona

This is another film that I think has potential. This supernatural horror film, directed by Michael Chaves,  is based on a Mexican folk tale about a legendary ghost called La Llorona. The film will be released in April.

It: Chapter 2

While I wasn’t a huge fan of the first installment of this remake, the second chapter is supposed to be darker and will feature members of the Loser’s Club all grown up, battling Pennywise one last time. I predict this will be the highest-grossing horror film of 2019. It comes out in early September. No trailer has been released yet.

The Lighthouse

Directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch), The Lighthouse is currently in post-production and was shot in black and white 35 mm. The film stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Not much is listed on the IMDB page, other than this brief synopsis: “The story of an aging lighthouse keeper named Old who lives in early 20th-century Maine.” The Witch was one of the most atmospheric horror films of the last several years, so I’m excited to see Eggers’ latest effort, which will also be distributed by A24 films.

The Nightingale This film is currently making its round at the festivals, and I’m including it because it’s by The Babadook’s director Jennifer Kent. Here is the synopsis, “Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.”

I am sure there will be several films that make my year-end of list for 2019 that currently aren’t gaining much attention. Who heard of Revenge, Terrified, or Apostle a year ago?

TV:

In terms of TV, Shudder has green lighted Greg Nicotero’s (executive producer of “The Walking Dead”) reboot of Creepshow.  Nicotero promises the show will honor the legacy of Stephen King and George A. Romero’s original film. We’ll see. Speaking of Shudder, one of the highlights of 2018 for horror fans was the return of Joe Bob Briggs, who hosted three horror movie marathons dubbed “The Last Drive-in” for the streaming service. In 2019, he’ll be hosting a regular series. Long live Joe Bob!

Meanwhile, Jordan Peele is hosting a rebooted version of “The Twilight Zone” for CBS.  AMC has renewed the criminally underrated “The Terror” for a second season, though the new season won’t have anything to do with Dan Simmon’s novel. Season 2 will be set during WWII. Lastly, let’s hope that “Channel Zero” has at least one new season this year. Based on Creepy Pasta stories, “Channel Zero” is one of the most innovative horror television shows in years.

Happy New Year, and please feel free to comment about your predictions, hopes, or horror movies for 2019!

 

 

 

 

Best of 2018: Horror Films

2018 has been another strong year for horror, and frankly, narrowing this list down to just 10 films was hard. Horror still has work to do in terms of becoming more inclusive, but it’s gradually getting there. Many of the films on my list feature female and foreign directors. Horror always serves as a reflection of our deeper anxieties, and many of the films  I picked  deal with the very personal, be it grief, skepticism, economic distress, or merely trying to keep your family together in the face of daunting circumstances.

10. Ghost Stories (Directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson)

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This British anthology film, based on a play written by its directors, is a quiet, slow creep, ultimately about skepticism versus belief. It has an ending that blends reality and the paranormal and is worth a watch for that segment alone. Watch the trailer by clicking here. Read my review by clicking here.

9. A Quiet Place (Directed by John Krasinski)

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Who knew that John Krasinski would direct such an inspired, creative horror film? The first 15 minutes of this film alone make the viewing experience worthwhile. What this creature feature does with sensory deprivation echoes other films like Hush and Don’t Breathe, while still featuring several nail-biting moments. You generally care for this family and their struggle to survive against creatures that are drawn to sound. This was one of horror’s biggest box office successes in 2018, so, of course, Krasinski is already writing the sequel. Watch the trailer by clicking here. Read my review by clicking here.

8. Veronica (Directed by Paco Plaza)

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This Spanish film by Rec director Paca Plaza is based on a true story about a teen, Veronica (Sandra Escacena), who was allegedly possessed. This film takes its time building its characters, especially the female lead and her responsibilities taking care of her younger siblings. There are so many scenes in this that are unsettling and downright spooky, so it would be difficult to mention just one. Watch the trailer by clicking here. Side note: I know this film was technically released in 2017, but it was distributed in the states via Netflix over the summer, hence my inclusion of it on this list.

7. Halloween (Directed by David Gordan Green)

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This is the Halloween film for the #MeToo era, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as final girl Laurie Strode. Curtis steals the show here, but Michael Myers is once again brutal, a force of nature, killing without reason. John Carpenter returned to the franchise to produce and score the film with his son. Recently, he said that he’s willing to help again with the inevitable sequel to David Gordan Green’s film, at least in terms of scoring it. Halloween was a blockbuster, one that may revive other horror slasher icons. Click here for the trailer. Click here to read my essay on the new Halloween and evolution of the final girl. Long live Michael Myers!

6. Cam (Directed by Daniel Goldhaber)

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Simply put, this is one of the best Internet horror films yet, one that illustrates how our online persona overtakes our life and causes us to always perform and always think about likes and Internet reaction. The film draws on the real life experience of writer Isa Mazze’s experience working as a cam girl. This story is both terrifying and sad. The duo of Mazze and Goldhaber said they plan to work together on another social horror film, so we’ll be hearing from them again soon. Watch the trailer for Cam by clicking here.

5. Apostle (Directed by Gareth Evans)

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This film about religious fanaticism is not for the faint of heart. It is brutal and gory, featuring a violence that matches the type of religious extremism showcased. For fans of folk horror, like The Wicker Man, this is a must watch. Watch the trailer here. Read my mini essay on Apostle, masculinity, and folk horror by clicking here.

4. Revenge (Directed Coralie Fargeat)

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I usually can’t stomach rape/revenge films, but this one is so  stylish, powerful, and gory, in the vein of the French extremity films from the previous decade. Director Coralie Fargeat reverses the narrative gaze here and clearly is aware of horror film tropes, including in the rape/revenge ones. She’s another young director to watch. Watch the trailer here. Read my essay on Revenge and its reversal of the gaze over at Horror Homeroom here.

3. Terrified/Aterrados (Directed by Demián Rugna)

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It was hard not to place this film on the top of the list. It is probably the most unnerving horror film I watched all year, other than my #1 pick. In the first 15 minutes, a woman is thrashed around a bathroom. In another scene, a little boy, back from the dead somehow, sits at this kitchen table, his skin brown and decayed, leaving police and paranormal investigators befuddled. Recently, Guillermo del Toro said he is interested in creating an American version of this Argentinean film, with Rugna set to direct. Here’s to hoping that happens and that any remake keeps the creepiness factor of this brilliant original. Watch the trailer by clicking here .  Read my review by clicking here.

2. Mandy (Directed by Panos Casmatos)

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I never liked Nicolas Cage, and then I saw Mandy. Cage plays Red, who sets out to avenge his wife after she’s killed by a Manson-like cult. This film is awash in red tones and at times, it feels like a fever dream through the various layers of hell. Cage is stellar, even when he’s chugging vodka and screaming alone in a bathroom. If you haven’t seen Mandy yet, do it! Watch the trailer by clicking here. Read my review here.

1. Hereditary (Directed by Ari Aster)

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How could this not make the #1 spot? This is a film worth re-watching and re-watching for the cinematography and clues laced throughout each frame. Toni Collette deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance in this. She is outstanding, playing a mother dealing with one loss after another. This is one of the rare films that lived up to the hype. Watch the trailer here.Read my review over at Horror Homeroom here.

Honorable Mentions: Annihilation, The Ritual, Upgrade, Overlord, The Witch in the Window, Summer of 84

Horror TV I binged in 2018: “The Terror,”  “Channel Zero,” and even “The Walking Dead,” which has found some new life under Angela Kang’s direction

Looking ahead to 2019: Next year should be another big year for horror. Jordan Peele is releasing his next  film entitled Us. Not much is known about this film yet, but it stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecke.  Robert Eggers is set to release his follow-up to 2015’s The Witch. The Lighthouse is another horror film, this one shot in black and white, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Like The Witch, The Lighthouse will be released and distributed by A24. The likely blockbusters will be the remake of Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery and the second chapter of It, set for release in October.  Keep an eye out for French director Alexandre Aje’s latest film entitled Crawl, set to be released by Paramount Pictures. Meanwhile, as my list for 2018 shows, there should be several films worth watching from  young,  innovative directors as well as foreign directors. Those films will probably fly under the radar for now, so keep your eyes peeled.

Bring on 2019!

 

 

 

 

New Horror Essay Published by SVJ

I am fortunate and grateful to have an essay on early horror cinema published by The Schuylkill Valley Journal, both print an online. The essay, entitled “The Progressive Politics of Early Horror Cinema: Gender, Female Empowerment, and Sexuality,” looks at Nosferatu and James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. You can read a version of the essay by clicking here.