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.
Over the course of the past thirteen chapters of Films of the New French Extremity, Alexandra West has taken us through some pretty dark shit. She notes that New French Extremity "burned brightly and quickly," starting in the late nineties and ending around Martyrs release in 2008. This really seems the only way this wave of films could have panned out given how potent and harsh they are.
I've got a ton of respect for West's ability to wade through movies of the New French Extremity, a known primarily for their nihilism and brutality, and pull from them meaningful and (very rarely) hopeful themes. I'm up for watching these movies at about the rate of one or two a year, tops. Wading neck deep in them to research for a book couldn't have been an easy task, but I have to say she's been up to the task. I've learned more about French history and sociology in 175 pages then I did in 18 years of school.
As the book winds down, chapter 14 serves as an epilogue for New French Extremity as West explores filmmakers of the NFE's foray into making American remakes. Alexandre Aja in particular seems to have found a niche in the U.S. remake market with titles like Piranha 3D, Mirrors, and The Hills Have Eyes. As West describes Aja bringing French sensibilities to films that tackle American themes, I couldn't help but picture Aja directing all of these films in cargo shorts, a Mickey Mouse hat, and a fanny pack.
In the book's conclusion, West says of the NFE, "While unpleasant to watch, it is hard to look away from these films." My biggest takeaway from the book is that these films have to be unpleasant. They're forcing France to look at some ugly parts of itself that it's historically been unwilling to see. While I'm not 100% sure that I'm any more willing to see a lot of it than before I read Films of the New French Extremity, I'm better off for knowing why they exist.
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