A Film a Week - Border / Gräns

Are we ready for a fresh, new view of trolls (of Nordic folklore, not internet lore sort)? You know, the creatures waiting under bridges with clubs in their hands, bashing the skulls of people and hobbits? Ready or not, this is what we are going to get in the sophomore feature by Denmark-based Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi following his astonishing atmospheric Gothic horror Shelley, already covered here on the blog. Border, based on a story by John Ajvide Lyndquist, the writer of the cult vampire book and film Let the Right One in, is a genre-blurring experience that revitalises socially charged Scandinavian noir with the elements of body- and folk-horror, while also digging into the philosophical depths.

At first, everything looks like yet another depressing social thriller. We meet Tina (veteran stage and screen actress Eva Melander in lots of prosthetic make-up), an awkward, almost fiendish customs officer working at the port somewhere in Sweden. She seems antisocial, but her special talent is to smell human emotion like shame, guilt or rage. That is the way for her to detect a supposedly cultivated businessman that is smuggling child pornography, which leads her being added to a national police task force on the case of exposing the ring. Outside working hours, she lives in the cabin in the woods with never do well Roland (an interesting turn by Jörgen Thorsson) who seems to pay more attention to his dangerous dogs and trash television than to her who spends most of her free time walking naked in the forest, communicating to wild animals and taking skinny dips in the lake. Other than that, she regularly visits her father that is slipping to dementia (Sten Ljunggren) in a retirement home, trying to resurface some of the family secrets with little to no luck.

Her world changes dramatically when she meets on of her clients / suspects named Vore (Finnish actor Eero Milonoff). The mask is the same, same prehistoric-looking forehead, wide nose, ugly teeth and bloated cheeks, so she assumes they are suffering from the same condition. He initially tries to keep her at distance with his attitude, but she is more intrigued and aroused than she feels rejected. The catch is the thing they are suffering from is not a “chromosome defect”, but a whole another thing, so the way she saw her complete life will never be same, which leads to a ton of questions about humankind.

Abbasi and his co-writer Isabella Eklöf expended the script from Lyndquist’s story as best as they could, but it feels choppy and generic at moments, especially in the first half when the procedural plot line drags a bit. Later on, as the new, fantastic and outlandish elements are introduced, Abbasi shows that he can handle them with tact and style, and he dares to go places seldom filmmakers would, like the signature sex scene. With trolls on the table, Abbasi channels the energy of early Peter Jackson and ripe David Cronenberg in the terms of body horror and blending it with the eternal questions (how come we as humans are capable of doing atrocities to other species’ babies?), as well as the timely ones regarding the racism in Sweden and the rest of the developed world, while the folk part serves as an attractive costume.

Border is a stunning-looking film, thanks to the cinematography by Nadim Carlsen (who also shot Abbasi’s previous film), convincing visual effects supervised by Peter Hjorth and the fine work in the make-up department. Let us not forget the actors, especially the leading duo who do wonders even under the heavy masks, channelling some genuine and complex emotions in this smart piece of artsy genre filmmaking.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the information on the film border, so I understand the story better.