The New French Extremity filmmaking style is taking both Europe and the States by storm. The films within are known for: extreme violence, unflinching excess, visceral visuals, and their transgressive approach to cinema. French Extremity refers to films that were made after the turn of the century by French filmmakers (duh). Pascal Laugier and Alexandre Aja are two of the more noteworthy names tied to this filmmaking subculture.
The films of the New French Extremity catalogue are a bit of an acquired taste. A viewer with no prior knowledge of this style of filmmaking could easily be put off by the ultra violent nature of the films. With a little exposure to this subcategory of filmmaking, the features contained within are very enjoyable; they take no prisoners and definitely make a statement.
Since French Extremity films are not as well known in the States as they are in Europe, we have put together a guide consisting of five French Extremity horror films every horror fan should see.
Once you’ve taken in the films on the list, there is much more French Extremity cinema out there to explore. And there are films that are even more extreme than those we have listed. Watching the titles that are highlighted will provide a good foundation for anyone who wants to seek out films like Irreversible or Rape Me. Extreme caution should be exercised on behalf of the viewer who plans to watch either of those titles. Irreversible takes its name, in part, from the experience that the viewer has while watching it. Irreversible is the type of film that you will not be able to forget, regardless of how much you would like to; the same goes for Rape Me. But, you should probably be able to discern that just from the title.
In Them, we find a schoolteacher and her lover tormented by a group of baddies that will not let up under any circumstances. Them was reportedly a huge inspiration for the American film The Strangers. It’s even been said that The Strangers is somewhat of a loose reimagining of the French film Them. Them is easily the tamest film on the list. There isn’t an outrageous amount of bloodshed, but the extremity is still there. The story, itself is extremely brutal. The film is mentally taxing and pushes the concepts it explores to the extreme; it just does so without stage blood in every frame. It’s the first pick on the list because its is a proper introduction to the French Extremity aesthetic without being so outrageous as to keep more sensitive viewers from wanting to explore other titles within the movement.
A musician’s van breaks down while he is on his way to a performance. All he wants is to find an inn, but we know things are never that easy in this sort of movie. The man is in for a real treat when things start to unfold in this twisted film. The Ordeal is full of: blood, destruction, and captivity against one’s will. It fits perfectly under the French Extremity banner. It certainly takes things to the extreme. As a result, a couple parts of the film may be a little hard to watch, but not to worry – it builds character. It’s also tamer than the titles that come after it on this list, so it’s good practice for what’s to come.
The exchanges that are shown between the individual that is captured and his or her captor are a little hilarious at times. The film does a good job with that whole portion of the film. (Don’t want to say anything more. We are encroaching upon spoiler territory).
After you’ve seen Them and The Ordeal, High Tension is a good next pick. The film follows two girls travelling to a home in the country to study for the weekend. They get more than they were expecting when a psychotic creep interrupts their quiet weekend with shenanigans of the worst kind – murderous shenanigans.
There is plenty of the requisite ultra violent imagery that one would expect from a French Extremity film in this picture. The film is aptly titled as High Tension. When I saw it in the theatre, I was glued to my seat for the entire run time. It kicks in to high gear about fifteen minutes in and it just doesn’t stop until the credits roll.
High Tension is perhaps the most commercially successful of the French Extremity features. It paved the way for Alexandre Aja to make that classic known as Piranha 3D. Just joking about the ‘classic’ part, although the film was not without its merits.
High Tension is somewhat of a divisive film. There are people that rave about it and people who just didn’t appreciate it. I am in the camp of supporters. I found it to be a thrilling experience and I found Aja’s direction to be superb. The ending is the primary source of controversy amongst viewers. Aja wasn’t the first to use this type of ending, but it wasn’t as overused at the time the film was made. Since then it has been imitated quite a bit in mainstream cinema. Either way, it’s a highly enjoyable film that needs to be seen at least once.
This tale of a woman on the verge of giving birth that is stalked by a mysterious stranger that desperately wants her baby is one of the finest films to come out in some time. Inside is a phenomenal picture. It functions as more than just a horror feature. It is also a highly suspenseful edge-of-your-seat type of film. The first time I watched it, I was so enthralled that I couldn’t believe it was over when the credits rolled. The musical cues, the lighting, the keen direction, and the performances all work together to provide viewers with an unforgettable experience. Inside is the type of movie you will probably never be able to forget. It is constantly throwing a different feeling, dilemma or emotion at the viewer. By the time it was over, I almost felt like I’d had a workout just from watching it. There is enough violence in Inside to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. And when you are finished with Inside, you will be ready for the finale: Martyrs.
Martyrs starts out as a high-octane revenge film, but quickly changes course in the most unimaginable way. This is the last on the list for a reason. Of course, it is a must see, but it’s helpful for the viewer to have an understanding of French Extremity before taking in Martyrs. I think of it as showing a student Natural Born Killers on the first day of film school. I think it important that any film student is well versed in Oliver Stone’s work, but it’s going to be easier for them to take in as well as more beneficial to their education once they have an understanding of filmmaking, and why directors use ultra violence in their films. There is a great deal of violence in Martyrs. The whole film is fairly surreal. The first time I saw it, Martyrs seemed like an excessively bloody revenge dream. The violence does go with the story, but there are several scenes where the gore is dialed up a little more than was absolutely necessary. However, in the case of Martyrs, the film wouldn’t make the impact it does without the excess – and the impact it made was huge!
This is the type of movie that if I saw it when I first fell in love with horror films, I wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much as I do now. Pascal Laugier holds nothing back in this tour de force tale of retribution and extreme violence. The film is almost like two pictures in one. The tone takes a dramatic shift partway through the feature and it’s almost as if the beginning and the end belong to two different films. Martyrs is an exceptional specimen of filmmaking and must be seen by any horror fan that hasn’t had the chance to take it in, yet.