Once dubbed “new French extremity”, horror cinema in France has delivered some of the most disturbing and provocative films, influencing the mainstream & gaining worldwide critical and popular acclaim.
By the mid 2000’s, films from France were having a huge impact on the horror cinema landscape worldwide. Brave writers and directors were pushing boundaries like never before, producing films characterized by intense brutality and the bleakest brand of nihilism. The movement was dubbed, “New French Extremity”, a name that no longer accurately describes the subgenre which is no longer “New”.
The following 10 films represent some of the best examples of outstanding French horror.
Inside (Maury / Bustillo, 2007)
“À l’intérieur” (original title)
The plot-line for Inside is as simple as it is horrifying: A mysterious woman breaks into a pregnant woman’s apartment intent on removing the unborn baby from her womb with a pair of long sharp scissors. That’s all there is to it and the entire film takes place over just a few fateful hours. Even though the viewers know exactly what they’re in for, Inside takes its time, building up the tension and suspense until it’s almost excruciating.
Frontier(s) (Gens, 2007)
“Frontière(s)” (original title)
If you love horror movies and haven’t seen Frontier(s), I’m revoking your membership card. Hand it over! Frontier(s) is a “must-watch” if ever there was one. Yes it’s brutal and disgusting and unnerving, but it’s extremely entertaining with a crew of interesting characters. Director Xavier Gens proves himself to be a future horror heavy-hitter. In short: Take the best aspects of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Decent – and you’re still nowhere close. See this movie!
High Tension aka Switchblade Romance (Aja, 2003)
“Haute tension” (original title)
Almost as good as Frontier(s), High Tension is another absolute must-see for discriminating horror aficionados. Roger Ebert disagreed calling it “poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and that it has a plot hole “that is not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact does have a truck driven right through.” Forget about Roger Ebert (rest in peace big guy!) and take my advice: See this movie if you have not already.
Sheitan (Chapiron, 2006)
An Arabic word for Satan, Sheitan follows a crew of club-kids on an ill-fated trip to the country. On Christmas Eve, a few horny guys are invited home by a couple of smokin’ hotties. When they arrive, they meet Joseph, an unkempt and unnerving caretaker with something wicked up his sleeve. Joseph is played masterfully by Vincent Cassel (he’s also brilliant in Brotherhood of the Wolf) who steals the show, vacillating between a gentle, humorous personality and something altogether sinister.
Malefique (Valette, 2002)
Mitch Davis of Fantastic Film Festival famously wrote: “Malefique almost plays out like an imprisoned Satanic variation of Cube by way of Hellraiser.” It’s a glowing review, for sure, but I don’t think it goes far enough in summarizing this claustrophobic fever-dream. Compared to Malefique, Cube is like an afternoon at Disneyland. Prison already makes for strange and terrifying bedfellows, so when a journal filled with black magic rituals materializes, the mix is dangerously volatile.
Them (Palud / Moreau, 2006)
“Ils” (original title)
Another great movie with an incredibly simple plot, Them focuses on a couple in a secluded home in the woods who are tormented by something in the darkness. Similar to The Strangers in the sense that its victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Supposedly based on real events, Them is so basic that it’s hard to write about it without giving the whole story away. This simplicity, however, does not affect this film’s effectiveness or its intensity.
Deep in the Woods (Delplanque, 2000)
“Promenons-nous dans les bois” (original title)
A truly demented retelling of a familiar fairy tale, Deep in the Woods is another sexually charged, bloody example of amazing French horror. When a theater troupe accepts a one night gig at a private birthday party in an isolated mansion they have no idea the horrors that await them. Secret couplings and dark secrets are revealed, creating in-fighting that divides the group making them easy prey.
Martyrs (Laugier, 2008)
Martyrs will hit you hard and keep you thinking for a long, long time. If you watch this movie, you will be affected. Word on the street is that an American remake has been in the works for years, but I can’t imagine anything that could improve on this masterpiece. What’s it about? A secret cult obsessed with the afterlife… and so much more.
The Horde (Dahan / Rocher, 2009)
“La horde” (original title)
Imagine a cops vs. gangsters battle on par with The Raid that coincidentally coincides with the dawning of the Zombie Apocalypse. Sworn enemies must put their differences aside to combat a much greater threat. The Horde features some of the best zombie-mob scenes ever. The non-stop action and intense gore and violence will definitely please hard-core horror hounds, as well as fans of black comedy.
Irreversible (Noé, 2002)
“Irréversible” (original title)
I appreciate the bravery in both presentation and subject matter, but watching Irreversible is a singularly miserable experience. Most infamous for a 10-minute, uncut rape scene and reversed-sequence storytelling, Irreversible starts off disturbing and only becomes more tragic as the film progresses. While I certainly found this film borderline traumatic, fans of the most extreme examples of French cinema won’t want to miss it.