THE STORY - Customs officer Tina is known for her extraordinary sense of smell. It's almost as if she can sniff out the guilt on anyone hiding something. But when Vore, a suspicious-looking man, walks past her, her abilities are challenged for the first time ever. Tina can sense Vore is hiding something she can't identify. Even worse, she feels a strange attraction to him. As Tina develops a special bond with Vore and discovers his true identity, she also realizes the truth about herself.
THE CAST - Eva Melander, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén & Sten Ljunggren
THE TEAM - Ali Abbasi (Director/Writer), Isabella Eklöf & John Ajvide Lindqvist (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME - 108 Minutes
THE GOOD - Amazing makeup, a strong lead performance and a unique storyline.
THE BAD - Rambling plot. Flat cinematography.
THE OSCARS - Best Makeup & Hairstyling (Nominated)
THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10
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By Will Mavity
Ali Abassi’s “Border” is an altogether difficult film to fully describe or to even evaluate. It fluctuates between tones and even genres, creating a comedy-drama-romance-detective noir-creature feature-coming of age film. For good and bad, it is a film very much unlike any you are likely to see this year.
Tina (Eva Melander) works customs in Sweden, using her keenly tuned sense of smell to ferret out criminals. Not only can she smell drugs, but also hatred, fear, shame. She knows guilt when she sees it. But her gift comes at a cost. Her face is almost troll like. And she boasts the remnants of a tail on her spine. She spends her days isolated from real human compassion. That is until she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff) who is just like her, except maybe more aggressive. He eats worms and is comfortable using his unusual appearance to intimidate others. Together, the two develop a friendship and even romance. But the more Tina learns about herself, and what she and Vore are, the more darkness she comes to observe both in herself and also in the people around her.
The best thing I can say about “Border” is that you have no idea where it’s going. It certainly cannot be accused of being predictable. Instead, the film is a bizarre acid trip of a ride into darkly comedic magical realism, that incorporates everything from Nordic folklore to child porn rings. The film takes its time introducing the viewer to its world. And its loose, rambling pacing can prove tiring at points. But its third act is both compelling and rewarding (if you can accept the film’s dramatic tonal shifts from dry comedy to dark crime). As the viewer, you won’t go more than a few minutes without a touch of uncomfortable laughter.
Melander’s versatile performance is the heart of the film. There may not be a rigorously defined plot, but her journey from almost childlike innocence to star-struck lover to rage-filled police officer is believable. Her vast emotional range is especially impressive given the vast amounts of makeup both her and Milonoff are buried beneath. Ali Abassi’s direction isn’t flashy, and his camera choices, combined with Nadim Carlsen’s cinematography lends the film a flat visual feel. And as convincing as the practical effects are, the film’s many CGI animals are distractingly rubbery.
And yet, something about the overall product works. It is messy, no doubt. And it wants to be so many things. But yet, beneath its considerable darkness, there is an undeniable sweetness to be found. A kind, beating heart. A hope that although humanity may be twisted, there is still happiness to be found. “Border” offers these moments throughout the film. Moments of beauty and innocence. And it deserves a shout out for one of the most bizarre and memorable sex scenes in recent memory.
In short, “Border” is not an easy film. It is not always a particularly well-made film. But, it is undeniably creative, and when it works, it really works. It will certainly make you feel (both revulsion and joy). Its makeup work is among the best of the year, and Eva Melander establishes herself as a real talent. It is not a masterpiece. Far from it in fact. But it is one of the most unique experiences you may have at the cinema this year.