Welcome back to another installment of the Chapter x Chapter series, a column where I take a deep dive into horror reading with a new review for each chapter of the book. The first book of this series is Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity by Alexandra West. If you're looking to start from the beginning, I recommend you check out my introduction.
After another unexpectedly long hiatus (paying bills really is for suckers) we're back with a new chapter of Films of the New French Extremity. This week, we're going to take a peek at how New French Extremity frames children and parenting. Wait, come back! I promise this won't be as bad as you think. In fact, given NFE's penchant for inverting expectation, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that in these films the children are not the tormented, but rather the tormentors.
Alexandra West describes a parenting philosophy in France that promotes treating children like miniature adults and laying out a structure of ground rules without coddling them. Detractors of such a philosophy note that children who are not allowed to be children tend to be well-behaved when they're being watched, but without supervision their impulses and aggression will manifest in dangerous ways.
This cultural conversation around parenting provides the context for Xavier Palud's 2006 film Ils (Them). I've not caught this one yet (although it is one of the few NFE films you can find streaming on Shudder) but the premise is compelling: a French couple move into the Romanian countryside where their home is attacked by a group of hooded figures. West explains that Palud's take on the home invasion trope toys with audience expectations by putting children into the role of the aggressor. He dares spectators to root for the adults even as they have to kill children to defend their own lives.
Cultural identity is a key theme in Ils, as the "them" film aren't the children, but rather the French couple seen by the children as outsiders. The Stephen King adaptation Children of the Corn plays with similar themes, as a couple gets stuck in a rural Midwestern town only to be attacked by a group of kids who worship an evil entity known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows. An important distinction in Ils, however, and one often found in NFE, is that there is no supernatural being pulling the strings. People are capable of monstrous acts without the influence of an other-worldy force.
In 2009's La Muete (The Pack) director Franck Richards spins an NFE twist on the torture porn sub-genre, following a woman named Charlotte who stops at a road side diner only to get pulled into the orbit of a family of mutant cannibal creatures to whom local travelers are fed after an agonizing preparation process. These creatures, who were "born" from a mine collapse, reminds viewers of similar instances that have occurred in France, particularly a mining collapse from 1906 that killed over 1,000 people.
In the film's climax **SPOILER ALERT** Charlotte takes on the role of family matriarch, continuing the tradition of luring people into the diner to feed her "children." In doing so, West explains, Richards inverts The Final Girl trope introduced by Carol Clover in Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Rather than having Charlotte survive or even get killed (as occasionally happens) he has her become the villain, which is quite rare in movies of this kind. I suppose, however, family can make even the best of us go off our rocker, particularly if said family is an adopted group of mutant cannibals.
Check out Chapter 12 here.
Bryan's To-Watch List:
- Le Manoir du diable (The Haunted Castle)
- Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon)
- Les Diabolique
- Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face)
- Le Viol du vampire (Rape of the Vampire) or really anything from Jean Rollin
- Baise-Moi (Can be translated as either Rape Me or Fuck Me)
- Sombre (Dark)
- In My Skin
- Criminal Lovers
- Ils (Them)
- Suel Contre Tout (I Stand Alone)
- Ma Mere