Review: BORDER (2018)

NOTE: This independent review, accompanying video and others like it are supported by the generosity of donors to The MovieBob Patreon. If you’d like to see more like it, please consider becoming a patron.

Well… this is definitely different?

The best advice I’d give about BORDER is that you ought to watch it knowing as little about it as possible (that would probably include not watching the trailer, which doesn’t give away the game but does let slip that there is a game which is about as damning when it comes to material like this. The fact is, good or bad, I could probably sell the viewing of this one to a certain audience simply by describing it as the much grittier version of a certain TV series… but then you’d know a bit too much of what to expect. And one of the rare treats of micro-distribution outfits like Neon Pictures is that one can, on occasion, happen on a movie that hits them totally out of left field.

In any case: Hailing from Sweden, directed by Ali Abbasi and based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let The Right One In), BORDER at first concerns the odd sad life of odd, sad Nina (Eva Melander;) a border agency guard (think TSA) afflicted – at least as far as she knows – with a chromosome defficiency that’s left her infertile, misshapen and possessed of vaguely Neandertahlic facial-features. Uncomfortable around other people, she’s pulled from border duty to assist the police base on her innate, inexplicable ability to identify guilty persons (“guilty of what” is a bit trickier) by scent in order to help track down and dismantle a ring of pedophile pornographers.

Whether or not this particularly bleak/absurdist version of the “ugly duckling turns out to have a super-power” initial hook is the main story, the B-story or both is part of the “oughtn’t be spoiled” part; but one way or another the film at least wants you to think there’s a curveball incoming as focus for Act 2 gradually shifts to Nina’s budding friendship with a mysterious drifter named Vore she encounters during a strip-search at work: He’s “malformed” in similar fashion to her (plus an additional deformity to his genitalia) but seems more brazenly comfortable with it – and also with other things she secretly enjoys but knows she isn’t supposed to like wandering the woods, eating maggots and… well, you get the picture. They’re “unusual,” but not too unusual from one another and Vore seems to know more about this than he’s letting on.

By this point you’ve either grasped in whole or in part at least what genre BORDER actually ends up occupying, though the specifics (and how specific) of what’s really going on may still end up throwing you for a bit of a loop. It’s certainly a bold angle in both directions, given that fans of the esoteric social-realist stylism that Abbasi grounds the main thrust of the story and overall atmosphere in might not be willing to fix their attention on such a preposterous “big idea” foundation while genre fans who’d otherwise be expected to fall hard for the high-concept may not be terribly fond of how it insists on still playing out in the context of an ultra-bleak crime-thriller/character-piece about sex-trafficking baby-smugglers and button-pushing grotesquerie as regards the main characters’ offbeat self-discovery journey.

Regardless, narrow window of appeal or not, BORDER is committed admirably to the strength of its own premise and the potential therein, and while not for everyone it ends up as one of the more engaging and original genre films to hit this year. So while my recommendation does come with reservation that, yes, this is exactly as grim and as bizarre as it looks; to the right audience I fully that’s just more of a recommendation – and that audience will be glad they sought it out.

NOTE: This independent review, accompanying video and others like it are supported by the generosity of donors to The MovieBob Patreon. If you’d like to see more like it, please consider becoming a patron.

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