The 10 Best French Extremism Films of All Time


If there was one sub-genre that is equal parts tantalizing and terrorizing it is that of French Extremism. Beginning in the late 1990’s and continuing to present day, French Extremism or “New Extremity” is a genre that pertains to films that contain intensely graphic sex and violence that test the audiences’ eyes as much as their stomachs in order to convey their films message. While not always from France itself and often categorised amongst the body-horror sub-genre of films, French Extremity always leaves an impression after it has been viewed, and usually one viewing is more than enough. These are the top ten French Extremism Films.


10. Them (David Moreau, Xavier Palud, 2006)


Starting off with the “lightest” film on this list is David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s tension building Them. Them is a story about a young couple played by Olivia Bonamy and Michaël Cohen who escape to the countryside for a peaceful weekend only to be terrorized by a group of unknown aggressors. The film builds its suspense admirably as the scares are stretched out from moment-to-moment, as we follow the couple all around their house in the hopes that they can escape before the night’s out.

While the film may be lacking in terms of carnage it makes up for it by feeding into its psychology of what is being seen and heard by the characters. While what’s on the screen may not seem like much in the moment, Them aims to take advantage of the viewer’s perception of events and make them become hyper-focused on the minute details of their surroundings. By doing so it keeps the audience on the edge and allows for more creativity to be had in terms on how each scare gets approached.

Fans of The Strangers should find a lot to like with this film as it shares many of the same elements stylistically and narratively. At times claustrophobic and unsettlingly realistic, Them creates a slow-burning horror film that resonates and repulses as it progresses.


9. Pola X (Leos Carax, 1999)

Moving from the psychological to the sexual, Pola X pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, while also considering what constitutes truth. Directed by Leos Carax, the film follows the story of a young writer named Pierre (Guilliame Depardieu) who happens to come across a woman named Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva) who may be his long-lost sister. Pierre is immediately drawn to Isabelle and is curious to know more about her and as they get to know more about each other the relationship develops from something innocent and inquisitive to something more lustful and passionate.

Pola X has many moments that teeter from the sexually explicit to the downright absurd. The film is probably most famous for its un-simulated incestuous sex scene that occurs between the two leads. It is an incredibly taboo thing to play with and it challenges the audience with a fundamental question about truth and society and how people perceive truth and react to harsh or uncomfortable ones.

Carax takes those ideas and pushes it to areas of such profound weirdness that it makes them seem plausible in the world that he imagines on the fringes of society where these people can potentially exist. That truth is inherently very alienating as the circumstances the main characters find themselves is rather bizarre, but it can be argued that is all intentional and without a doubt provocative.


8. Inside (Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillio, 2007)


Now come the more stomach-churning entries and there is no better pick to start with than the brutalist Inside. It maximises every moment of carnage that it can right off the start but the story in this movie is a rather simple one. A recently widowed pregnant woman named Sarah (Alysson Paradis) fights for survival on the worst night of her life against a female intruder (Béatrice Dalle) who wants her unborn baby for herself. What results is an all-out war that takes no prisoners as these two women battle with any and all tools at their disposal to vanquish the other.

The film is incredibly gory and violent as it finds new and creative ways to execute it, but it also manages to be quite scary as well. Sometimes in the horror genre when extreme gore is shown it can be seen as inherently goofy or over-the-top despite whatever seriousness that it may be attempting. That is not a fault of the film whatsoever, but it is important to mention at how unpleasant the violence is in the film and how tragically it occurs. Everyone no matter their intention gets caught up in this feud and pays the price for wanting to do the right thing when perhaps there is no hope.

It aims to show cruelty and possession in the most contentious of ways and succeeds in doing so by how unforgiving and lasting each blow dealt against this is taken. It tears and cuts through each of the characters until it ends in a devastatingly nihilistic climax that offers little resolution to what monstrosity has just occurred.


7. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Infidelity has never been more unequivocal than in Claire Denis’ erotic horror Trouble Every Day. The film follows a newlywed couple Shane and Julie Brown (Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey) as they vacation to Paris for their honeymoon. Shane however has different plans than just eloping as he investigates a doctor named Léo (Alex Dascas) who is taking care of an old lover of Shane’s in that of the mysterious and freakish Coré (Béatrice Dalle). While the film does not care for elaboration into what the motivations of the characters it opts for a more atmospheric approach and allows the audience to make their own conclusions and observations for when the switch flips and blood begins to flow.

The film is moody and obscure while also drawing on Denis’ signature sensuality to add another layer of intrigue. Most scenes can start in a sexual sort of way until they boil over into animalistic carnage that unsettles the viewer to their core. It also presents quite a unique take on the horror genre as there is no build-up or reasoning for the bloodshed, but it rather just exists in its own space. It is nasty and ravenous, and it carries on much longer than one thinks that it should which gives it a literal sourer taste. In addition to the gore here is also the sexuality of the film, as the graphic nudity here is not so much stimulating as it is wicked.


6. Frontier(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007)

Frontiers (2007)

Political rage and classic slasher violence intersect in Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s). Following a group of Muslim youths who take advantage of a political riot to loot and steal valuables seems like the basis of another kind of film as opposed to a horror one. What they do not account for is one of their own getting injured and getting swept up into the chaos. To avoid being caught by the police the group split and flee to the countryside where they encounter a family of neo-Nazi’s who aim to torture and punish the group who they have deemed to infringe on their turf. While echoing the remnants of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and adding its own political ruminations, it colours what on the surface might be a typical trapped hitchhiker slasher and adds more depth to the work.

In terms of how extreme it gets; it would be an understatement that this film more than earns its slasher stripes by amping up its gore and harnessing the tools or farmers and carpenters as the weapons of choice. Our protagonists rip, tear and claw their way out of multiple dangerous and uncompromising situations in order to escape their captors. Between animal cartilage being shoved into the viewers face and mutilation to a degree of literal butchering, the blood literally overflows to points of no return. The audience feels vindicated seeing them slash their way into the despicable villains they are facing but it also has more underneath the surface.

It’s a film that highlights how extreme hate is always lingering on the fringes of society because that is the only place where it can seem to form its own ecosystem. When that hate is allowed to fester and mutate throughout years of it being unchecked it can create disastrous consequences on those that the seek to oppress.