Border(11/17/2018)

About ten years ago a film came into the culture called Let the Right One In.  That movie, about a young boy who befriends a girl who turns out to be a vampire, was widely acclaimed at the time and has managed to hold up quite well over the course of the following decade.  At the time liking the film felt like an act of defiance.  This was going on during the Twilight phenomenon and liking this Swedish vampire movie that seemed to cover similar-ish subject matter in a smarter and more adult way felt like a necessity to defend the honor of vampire fiction, which is an attitude that feels a bit overly dramatic in retrospect.  Ten years later that movie still works as a sort of dark modern fairy tale, which is a form that’s become increasingly popular with the rise of Guillermo del Toro.  That movie was directed by Tomas Alfredson, who went on to various highs and lows in Hollywood, but it was written by a guy named John Ajvide Lindqvist and based on his own novel of the same name.  That was actually his first published novel and he’s written a number of books since then without having really had the same kind of crossover success, but now he has found another set of collaborators and has come out with another film has emerged based on one of his short stories called Border.

The film is set in modern Sweden and follows a woman named Tina (Eva Melander) who works as a customs agent at the airport trying to thwart smugglers and the like.  Tina has a bit of an unusual look to her, one that almost looks like a physical deformity of sorts.  She has kind of a puffy face and some oddly shaped features like her nose and chin.  At one point it’s suggested that she believes she has some sort of chromosomal abnormality but it’s increasingly clear that what’s going on with her is different from any real world disability as she seems to have a sort of sixth sense that allows her to “smell” people’s feelings and fears, a trait that makes her rather talented as a border guard but which can alienate her from others.  She seems to be living a rather quite life until one day a guy named Vore (Eero Milonoff) walks past her customs desk who seems to have similar facial features including a large nose and a weird looking smile that kind of makes him look like Aphex Twin in the “Windowlicker” video.  Immediately Tina finds herself drawn to this guy, in part because she thinks he may have a better understanding of whatever she is, but Vore seems to have a couple of secrets of his own that he’s hiding.

The bones of the story here are not unlike that of Let the Right One In: both end up putting the supernatural into a modern context and both focus on two people who find something of a kindred spirit in one another even if it maybe isn’t good for both of them.  Border will perhaps be a harder sell to audiences for a few reasons, one of them being that unlike Let the Right One In this isn’t really a horror movie and it also can be a little alienating watching these two rather strange looking people interacting.  The film’s makeup effects are impressive, but not entirely seamless, you can see the prosthetics if you’re looking but at the same time the movie does a pretty good job of making these people look just weird enough to stand out but not so weird that they couldn’t live more or less normal lives if they wanted to.  There are also sexual elements in the film that emerge later on that will alienate audiences that don’t go in with a pretty open mind and other little touches that will frankly come off as rather gross.

As the film goes on it does become clear that this is meant to be something of an allegory for “otherness” within society, whether in terms of race, sexual orientation, or disability.  Specifically I think the film is supposed to tap into sexual orientation and gender identity given that the main character lives in society but feels different and isolated from everyone until she meets one of “her own” and starts to have everything snap into place.  The film also deals with some of the darker aspects of being and outsider given that Vore turns out to have something of a Magneto-like view of “normal” people.  That what the movie ultimately has to say about these themes is never quite as original as the weird trappings might suggest.  All in all this is not the easiest movie to recommend except to a very specific kind of audience that looking for something weird.  I don’t see this finding the relatively wide audience of Let the Right One In, but people who really loved that or the dark fairy tale aesthetic that Guillermo del Toro should probably give it a chance.

*** out of Five

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