Movie Review: BORDER (2018)

BORDER is one of the most original movies you’ll see this year.

It’s a bold statement – one you’re likely to hear from a handful of critics. That’s because this sophomore effort from Ali Abbasi (director of Shelley) is a genre-bender that’s surprisingly difficult to describe.

It’s a smorgasbord of fantasy, noir and romance presented in a manner so cohesive and singular that it doesn’t seem possible. Think Let the Right One In (BORDER was co-written by author John Lindqvist) disguised as a Nordic fairy tale and that would only be scraping the surface.

BORDER revolves primarily around the fascinating Tina – a woman with a “chromosome deformity” who lives in a secluded house in the woods with her ambivalent partner, Roland. When she’s not at home, she spends her days working for the Swedish border agency. Tina has a peculiar ability that allows her to smell people’s feelings, specifically shame, guilt, and rage. It’s this ability that makes her successful in her line of work, as she easily sniffs out contraband on just about any person.

Well, almost any person. One day, she encounters a stranger named Vore. Vore possesses facial features similar to Tina’s and exudes the confidence that Tina lacks. There’s an unmistakable aura of mystery that surrounds Vore and this is what ultimately draws her to him. Their relationship soon blossoms into something bizarre and special.

And “bizarre” is a bit of an understatement, as BORDER features some of the most insane plot twists you’re likely to see in quite some time. What’s more bizarre is that it all works.

Eero Milonoff and Eva Melander in BORDER

This is, in part, due to the fantastic performances from the cast. Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff both pull off the difficult task of grounding these two fantastical characters in a way that makes them feel genuine. Through clever world building, BORDER establishes a believable universe while patiently incorporating surreal ingredients to create a fantasy that’s earthy and strangely convincing.

Speaking of which, the film is a delight to look at, with beautiful scenery and a keen eye for photography. There’s one point in the film where Tina compares the waterfall near her house to “what you heard about in fairy tales.” It’s agreeable and demonstrates that the film is wholly aware of what it wants to be.

It’s not unreasonable to think that BORDER will lose some of its viewers when things really go off the rails. Those who aren’t turned off by its descent into surrealism may become disinterested as the story diverges from its compelling love story into a police investigation. It never quite reaches a crescendo, but for a film that relishes in subverting audience expectations, it’s hard to fault it for marching to the beat of its own drum.

BORDER won the Un Certain Regard award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It was released in the U.S. on October 26th, 2018.

Tom Milligan
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