New French Extremism


What’s a true horror film fan to do? J-Horror and Torture Porn have (thankfully) run their course as most fads do.  It didn’t take long for a new film movement to fill the void they left behind.   France, the country most known for comedies and the auteur theory, has turned out an impressive string of high and low budget shockers that could even surprise the most jaded horror film fan.  Fears of overflowing borders and political unrest have inspired this new generation of filmmakers and Hollywood has taken notice.  Most have already been lured away with the promise of big time budgets and creative freedom.

What follows below is a extensive summary of some of the most notable films to come out of this movement to date :

Deep in the Woods aka Promenons-nous dans les bois (2000)

An acting troupe is hired to perform at a young boy’s birthday party.  Everything is uneventful until the local police arrive to warn them about a possible killer on the loose.  The film borrows heavily from the post-Scream slasher films of the late 1990s.

Six-Pack (2000)

Billed as the French equivalent of The Bone Collector focusing on their first known serial killer.  Currently unavailable in the U.S.

With a Friend Like Harry aka Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien (2000)

Former high school friends Michael (Laurent Lucas) and Harry (Sergi Lopez) are reunited after many years by chance.  What starts innocently enough turns quite creepy as Harry integrates himself into Michael’s life.

Brotherhood of the Wolf aka Le Pacte des loups (2001)

Christopher Gans’ (Silent Hill) based-on-true-events 18th century action-adventure is the only period piece on this list.  Something is killing the residents of a small village in rural France and its up to Samuel La Bihan (Grégoire de Fronsac) and his Iroquois sidekick Mani (Marc Dacascos) to discover what it is.  Lots of Matirx-inspired action set in the French wilderness.  A strange but successful mixture of genres.

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Claire Denis directs this highly controversial, disturbing, and almost dialogue free film dealing with cannibalism.  Two stories intertwine focusing on a husband (Alex Descas) trying to deal with his wife’s (Béatrice Dalle) obsession with killing and eating young men; and another man (Vincent Gallo) on his honeymoon in Paris trying to come to terms with the emptiness in his soul.  An interesting movie that really makes you feel for all these damaged people.

Bloody Mallory (2002)

France’s answer to Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  After the Pope is kidnapped Mallory (Olivia Bonamy) and her team of Anti-Paranormal Commandos are called into action to save him. Over the top action and violence ensue.  Some fantastic set-pieces are almost not enough to save this jumble of genres.

In My Skin aka Dans ma peau (2002)

Writer/director/star Marina de Van’s disturbing look at one woman’s fascination with her body after a horribly disfiguring accident. The film raises troubling questions about our own relationship with the flesh.  Not for the squeamish.

Irreversible (2002)

Probably the most notorious film on the list comes from director Gaspar Noé.  Told in reverse chronological order, the film starts with the brutal rape and torture of Alex (Monica Belluci) and then it leads you back to the beginning of her night on the town.  The choice to structure the film in this manner does manage to make you feel quite uneasy for the rest of the film knowing what awaits Alex.

Maléfique (2002)

Four prisoners sharing the same cell find a mysterious journal belonging to a former inmate.  Real tension ensues as the prisoners form an uneasy alliance to use the book’s possible magical powers to escape prison.  Well shot and creepy film from Eric Valette.

High Tension aka Haute tension (2003)

Writer/Director Alexandre Aja exploded onto the international scene with this breakout hit.  The first true home invasion thriller of the list follows Alexia (Maïwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cécile De France) on a road trip to meet Alexia’s family.  Once they arrive and settle in for the night the terror begins as and unknown figure knocks on the door.  Saying much more would spoil the fun of this extraordinary film.  I give it my highest recommendation.  A must see.

Saint Ange (2004)

Some claim that 2007’s The Orphange stole much of it’s plot from this 2004 film.  Besides the setting I didn’t find much of a connection.  Newly hired Anna (Virginie Ledoyen) arrives at the orphange just as their last child awaits placement with a new family.  With the help of the little girl, Anna begins to investigate the strange noises they’ve been hearing in the lonely orphange’s hallways.

The Ordeal aka Calvaire (2004)

Marc (Laurent Lucas) is a struggling pop musician who mostly plays at retirement homes. While traveling to his next performance on Christmas Eve his van breaks down on a secluded country road.  After a miserable night he finds help from some local children and ends up at an out-of-the-way inn somewhere deep in Belgium.  The inn is run by a lonely old man (Jackie Berroyer) who has some disturbing plans for his new guest.  I’ve had to defend this film on more that one occasion.  So once and for all is this film making a point about the emasculation of men in today’s society or is it a cheap Deliverance rip-off?  I choose the former.

They Came Back aka Les Revenants (2004)

What would happen if everybody who recently died suddenly came back to life and wanted their old lives back?  How would people deal with the return of loved ones they already mourned?  How would a government deal with such an overnight population influx?  An interesting twist on the normal zombie formula.

Caché (2005)

A young couple is terrorized by a series of secretly recorded videotapes that start showing up at their door.  What follows is a series of events you’ll never see coming.  A true critical darling upon it’s release in 2005 and rightly so, director Michael Haneke is in top form.

Sheitan (2006)

Four friends get more than they bargained for when they find themselves at a lonely sheppard’s home after a night of partying.  The always interesting Vincet Cassel turns in a great performance as the deranged homeowner.

Them aka Ils (2006)

A young couple is terrorized in the Romanian countryside by an unknown group of assailants.  What could have been a fairly typical story turns out to be a very interesting statement on the current political climate in France and Romania.  SPLOILERS : After some reading I’ve learned that Romania has been having such a  problem maintaining their population that the president actually requires families to have children and has outlawed all birth control and abortion.  What this has created is a generation of unwanted children that wander the country with no sense of what is right or wrong.

Eden Log (2007)

A man wakes up in a mysterious underground cavern and finds himself being pursued by some incredibly dangerous creatures.  Currently unavailable in the U.S.

Frontier(s) (2007)

France’s answer to Hostel.  A group of bank robbing friends escape the political rioting in France only to find themselves at a creepy hostel run by a family of neo-Nazi cannibals.  Crazy over the top violence makes this one to check out for sure.

Inside aka À l’intérieur (2007)

Set against the same political rioting as Frontier(s), this film begins with a terrible car crash that young, pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) barely survives but claims the life of her boyfriend.  Flash-forward a few months and its Christmas Eve and Sarah is scheduled to deliver her baby the next morning.  What should have been a normal night relaxing at home turns sickeningly violent when a woman (Béatrice Dalle) knocks at her door and demands Sarah’s baby.  A truly shocking tale that may turn off people with its excessive violence or ambiguous ending.

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