EJ Moreno looks back on seven emblematic extreme French films…

During the 2000s, American horror fans saw a rise in extreme violence in their horror. From Hostel For Sawit was fair to say that things weren’t the corny fun slashers we saw decades before.

But where did it start? For many moviegoers, we come back to the French horror movement which began in the late 90s and became essential at the start of the millennium. Here we look at films representing or inspiring New French Extremity. The term comes from a 2004 Art Forum reviewer named James Qudant, coining what the genre was slowly turning into.

While French cinema has always been known for pushing the boundaries – look at New Wave cinema in the 60s – a very avant-garde collection of films began to appear from French horror filmmakers. We’ll be looking at the seven most influential and craziest deals, giving fans a big bunch of scares.

Inside

Directing duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo burst onto the cinematic scene with an explosive debut. On paper, Inside feels like one of the more traditional movies in this selection; a home invasion and a woman fighting to survive. But the layers this film has, the horror that unfolds, it all comes together for an unforgettable experience.

While most extreme French films push the boundaries of good taste, Inside does the unthinkable and adds an unborn baby to the mix. We’re not just watching a woman take on a highly motivated and sick killer, but she’s also an expectant mother and knows she has to go through the evening to keep everyone alive. Like any good New French Extremity, Inside puts the viewer in the greatest discomfort and forces you to see it to the end.

Our common theme will be to thank the women who took care of these graphic films. Still, special thanks to lead actress Alysson Paradis for making this utterly believable.

fuck me

The 2000s resemble the first era of New French Extremity; while there are memorable entries before and after this period, it’s safe to say that the new millennium ushered in a truly wild cinematic era. Take the 2000s fuck mefor example, a film that makes the grindhouse era of the 70s blush.

Fuck-MoI’m two women out for revenge on men in this even more twisted version of Thelma and Louise. It’s simple, straightforward, and graphically in your face; precisely what you expect from your rape and revenge movies. Many have called the movie immoral, but that often seems to be the point when it comes to revenge based heinous acts. To quote Hemingway, as Ebert did in his film review: “It’s moral if you feel good after it, and immoral if you feel bad after it.” It’s the perfect film to “feel bad”.

What also helps this film are the women involved, Raffaela Anderson and Karen Bach, who elevate the material with their performances.

High tension

Alexandre Aja’s masterpiece has established itself as a force in the industry and genre. One of the most famous movies included here, High tension (a.k.a Switchblade Romance), defined that moment and helped push New French Extremity into the mainstream. Without this film and the rise of extreme Asian cinema, America’s “era of torture porn” would not have happened.

In a film that writer Dean Koontz called “intellectually bankrupt,” the acts of violence on display here definitely push its audience. There’s offensive kill after offensive kill, all to lead to an incredibly bizarre plot twist; it’s understandable the pushback, but it’s not fair to call this movie unintelligent. High tension takes everything you thought you knew and twists it beautifully, making horror dangerous all over again.

Yet to this day, filmmaker Alexandre Aja kicks ass. Of all the filmmakers included here, Aja’s extreme style has found its place.

problems every day

Claire Denis is often hailed as one of the best filmmakers of our time, but it’s crazy to think that her 2001 film problems every day is often considered a low point in his career. In one of his most interesting films about the body and femininity, Denis’ erotic horror movie deserves reappraisal.

problems every day hits you hard and doesn’t stop until the credits roll. It’s honest and raw, which is what we expect from Claire Denis, but we often see graphic horror and intimate gazes clash. Like Claire Denis, the film seeks neither respect nor admiration but deserves it entirely. Even when it’s sickest, we feel something most other movies don’t: love. Never has violence been so full of passion.

It’s honestly a shame that Denis doesn’t dive back into horror, given his strength in the genre, especially at a time when all of French horror was fighting for attention.

Them

If you enjoyed The foreigners or the rise of sleek home invasion movies, in general, that we saw in the second half of the millennium; you can thank this gnarly little film for that. 2006 Them feels deeply influential and instills terror alongside the disgust we usually feel in these films.

While the majority of the New French Extremity collection is entirely devoted to sex and violence, Them emphasizes tension and suspense, but it doesn’t lack the scares its peers have. The acts we see in this movie carry as much weight to them as in High tension, only because of who commits them. The last lines of this movie will stick with you for quite some time, a chilling delivery, making the whole movie sicker.

For those who are too nervous about something incredibly graphic, Them is a perfect introduction to French horror. But those fears might hit you harder than all the blood, guts, and sex.

Irreversible

It is far to suppose that legendary shock artist Gaspar Noé would hate the term New French Extremity, feeling that his work transcends that label. That would be fair, but his 2002 movie Irreversible is so influential that it’s hard to imagine extreme French cinema without him.

Once you see that, most other movies look like Disney entertainment. But like any good extreme film, there’s something to be said here, with Noah tackling trauma and how it ruins everyone’s life. The point of view feels mature and polished, even if the film lives to be messy and chaotic. Clever as it is obnoxious, a single viewing of Irréversible can send anyone into a cinematic spiral forever.

If we’re talking about acting that elevates beyond graphic horror, let’s not forget that Irreversible includes an all-star duo of Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, giving it their all here.

SEE ALSO: Irreversible: Straight Cut perfects Gaspar Noé’s shocking masterpiece of art

Martyrs

For the Most Extreme Horror Fans, 2008 Martyrs is considered the Holy Grail. From its gripping tale of revenge to its deeply layered story, no movie on this list seeps into your soul quite like this. It’s hard to overstate the legacy and impact of this film, simply saying “you have to see to believe”.

In 2008, New French Extremity felt like they had reached all of their highest marks, but Pascal Laugier’s twisted vision came along and gave the era a defining moment late in the game. We would soon see so many films after this attempt to recapture its sleek brutality and clever plot, but no one understood why. Martyrs strikes so deeply. Don’t let the praise for its intelligence fool you, as it’s easily one of the toughest viewings.

Again, the women who starred in these films are troopers, indulging in horror entirely. Martyrs is no expectation, with two of my favorite horror performances.

If you would like to get involved with Flickering Myth’s own horror project, please see the Kickstarter campaign page for The baby in the basketa 1940s Gothic horror film starring Amber Doig-Thorne (Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey), Paul Barbier (The full Monty) & Annabelle Lanyon (Legend).

E.J. Moreno