Border is an intriguing, bizarre, fable-like film that has many admirable traits but never quite comes together.
From the off, we are introduced to Tina, a woman who looks like a Neanderthal and can smell people’s fear, working as a customs agent in a humdrum Swedish ferry terminal. The arrival of the mysterious (also barely hominid looking) Vore disconcerts her. What does she smell on this kindred spirit? To tell anything would be to indulge in spoiler after spoiler. Suffice to say the story stays impressively weird, making time for both Nordic folklore and a subplot about Tina sniffing out a paedophile ring.
Aesthetically Ali Abbasi’s movie looks and sounds like an art house, European film. When it comes to script and characterisation it’s as on the nose as the worst Hollywood has to offer. Every sympathetic moment that Eva Melander can create from under all that makeup to make us care for Tina, a person that’s lived her life wounded by not conforming to beauty or gender norms, is drowned out by another moment where Tina has to sniff the air and get angry in close up or Vore’s absolutely ludicrous performance.
As an antagonist, Vore has the mannerisms of Viper Higgins with the vibe of a divorced rugby dad, all under heavy prosthetics. He chews the scenery along with the bugs that he revels in eating in front of Tina. Border might have serious things to say about how society mistreats people that don’t conform to preconceived norms but chooses to put them in the mouth of a sneering, pantomime caveman.
For all that, though, this film really does have dedication to surprising the audience. Throughout, despite the very telegraphed plot lines there is an abundance of bizarro imagery that’s often part body horror and part body celebration.
As it’s a story about the harm done by trying to put people in boxes and assign labels to things I’ll concede that perhaps Border’s messy tone and nonsensical elements are intentional. You’ll have to watch it yourself to decide. My guess is that, in adapting the short story (from Let the Right One In scribe John Ajvide Lindqvist) to feature length, Abbasi accidentally created his own ungainly hybrid beast. It’s dream logic told with a straight face. The result is like eating a seven course meal heaped on one plate.