Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ali Abbasi
Screenwriter: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, based on a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petren, Sten Ljunggren
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/18/18
Opens: October 26, 2018
People are not who they seem. This is something most of us pick up by the time we are six years old, and is a common theme in literature, theater and movies. There are two people, however, in Ali Abbasi’s “Border,” that are tangentially like others of their ilk, but this couple—a twosome that “found” each other–could pass for human beings. And that’s something you can’t necessarily say about vampires (at least before they received new fans by their good looks) and zombies. They’re not as innocent looking as the evil people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but if you ever encountered them you would be suspicious, but then you would write off your distrust by thinking that you’re guilty by some kind of “ism.”
Ali Abbasi, who directs “Border” (his sophomore full-length feature) is known by cinephiles for being at the helm of “Shelley,” about a couple who are unable to bear children but hire a Romanian maid to do the honors with unappealing results, the title baby’s clicking sounds perhaps the least unusual thing about the little one. For his part, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s short story which was adapted for this film, is responsible for writing “Let the Right One In,” about a bullied fellow who finds love and a chance for revenge through a meeting with a peculiar girl. So we know what we are in for with “Border.” Or do we?
Let’s let Tina in. As played by Eva Melander, she may strikes you as a woman with a face that only a mother could love. Yet even she finds the affection she seeks while working as a customs agent in a Swedish seaside border post, a perfect career choice since she can smell both illegal goods from smugglers and moral rot from anybody. A businessman with a suit who would be sent away with a wave of her fellow worker is stopped by Tina, who takes apart his mobile and finds incriminating stuff. When Vore (Eero Milonoff) passes her way, a fellow who is so ugly he could be her soulmate, he is body-searched by her male colleague with embarrassing (for the agent) results. We are well aware that the two will indeed get together, histories will be exchanged, maggots and worms will be eaten, and for the first time in her life, she will realize that she, too, is person who is not who she thought she was.
What follows is a believable story notwithstanding its genre-bending look into horror, Nordic myths, a police drama, and a film that expresses a back-to-nature thematic structure, finding Tina running barefoot through the forest that is right outside the door of her isolated cabin. She takes steps to deal with a freeloading roommate, Roland (Jörgan Thorsson), who is more interested in TV and in showing his Rottweilers in competition than in her, a man who is rebuffed when he tries for intimacy with Tina. Tina is more at home with the animal kingdom, possesses a nose that can tell when deer are approaching, allowing her to stop the car so they can pass unmolested. Both Tina and Eero become involved in capturing a pedophile. From her father (Sten Ljunggren) she ultimately learns the truth about her upbringing.
Don’t feel sorry for the actors who play Tina and Vore. They are not that ugly. Instead, they put up with four hours daily in the make-up studio to give them the grotesque looks, giving the movie the possibility of picking up awards for the prosthetic team. Filmmaker Ali Abbasi holds an Iranian passport and had been unable to enter the U.S. because of the current restriction on some Muslim countries, but he was allowed to enter our country for the Telluride Festival. (Don’t let Trump know or he will fire the officials who allowed this.)
Strictly speaking, movies that feature serial killers like Freddy Kruger are not horror films. They are slasher fare. A true horror film must deal with supernatural aspects, like the title baby in “Rosemary’s Baby,” or the pod people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” If you are repelled by slasher movies you may find that true horror is more to your liking, which is why you should give “Border” your time. The film was screened at Cannes, Telluride, and the Toronto festivals. And those who do not recognize the environment in which the story takes place, it was shot by Nadim Carlsen in Kapellskär and Norrtäje, Sweden. English subtitles are provided.
110 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+