Film Review: Border

There’s No Place Like Home

As a foreigner living in a foreign land I can’t help but think that it can give you a beautiful enhanced insight and appreciation of the world immediately around you. Certainly there are moments of feeling potentially alien, an outsider, discomfort and isolation with the sense of you don’t fit in, but in reality that is the human condition, it doesn’t matter where you are, who you are with, these feelings can exist at any time, even if you’ve never left the place you were born.

Director/screenplay-writer Ali Abbasi was born in Tehran, and now lives in Sweden with dual nationality. Still relatively young in his directing career he has just released his second major feature ‘Border’ (2018) based on the short story ‘Gräns’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist. John is also the author of the incredible ‘Let the Right One In’, which of course went on to become the movie of the same name in 2008.
‘Let the Right One In’ was masterful in creating a vampire horror tale, that blended everyday familiarity, the mundane, children, friendships, alienation, the normal, but all marinated in blood, human darkness and a deep pervading unease.

There are similar themes in ‘Border’ that are only enhanced by Ali’s deft direction and the fact that he is not from Sweden where the movie was filmed, all the forest scenes have the power and intensity of seeing a new planet for the first time.

The subject of the film is Tina (Eva Melander), who works at the Swedish customs office checking passengers disembarking the local ferry, who may be returning with goods that are not permitted. She has an unusual ability that profoundly helps her profession in that she has the ability to literally smell shame and guilt on people. It wafts like pungent perfume from their pores, raising alarm bells in her head, and she is never wrong.

She may have been blessed with these powers that have enhanced her life, but they also alienate her from her peers, which is only solidified by her physicality that she is told to be a genetic abnormality, but which to all extents makes her look like a missing link in human evolution and adding to her woes, she has some mysterious old scar marks on her back.

She’s excellent at her job, but she feels and is treated like an outsider, in her position, her environment, society and even in her own body, everything is familiar, yet totally foreign.

She does however feel genuine peace when she’s home and walking through the surrounding forests, it brings her senses alive, offering peace, succour and ever-increasing rapture the more she releases herself to the feral wilds.

This peace is ruptured with the encounter of another individual (Eero Milonoff ) with similar distinguishing features to Tina passes through her custom checks. Her trustworthy senses are sent spinning, yet unusually come up false, however something else is unearthed that slowly awakens a long dormant suppressed force and a potentially profound metamorphosis. 

Nature is at the core DNA of ‘Border’, in the wild environments, but also human, both beautiful and extremely dark. The more we condition ourselves and move away from where we came from, the sicker and darker we become as a species. We may construct ever elaborate or vile distractions, but realistically we are slowly killing ourselves. The stuff we have conditioned ourselves to believe and see as good aren’t, and all the while such base simplicity as judging Tina on her looks blind us to her decency that significantly outshines the people she meets through her job. She might be labelled a monster, but the true monsters are the most ‘normal’ and ‘presentable’ members of society.

‘Border’ is hugely successful at creating a world that is immediately familiar, yet skewed. We are at once comfortable, and ever increasingly uneasy. I went into the film knowing very little about the movie except for anecdotal praise, and I’m glad I did. Your own disorientating and discomforting perceptions mirror Tina’s as she navigates through the extremely dark woods of her home, modern society and her very existence.

The confidence Abbasi shows in holding all the various elements together to keep a thread of coherency in an ever bizarre tale is incredible. There is profound darkness, strangeness and horror, but also hope in the darkest of places, beauty in what we are conditioned to turn away from, and evil hidden in what we accept. The combination of writing and direction is so strong and unique that it had me thinking of the dizzy heights of the best of Cronenburg and Lynch, yet in an entirely forest fresh way.

The two leads are outstanding, but particularly Eva who’s fear and vulnerability shine through extremely deep layers of incredibly well done makeup. Nature looks ravishing throughout and to an extent utterly alien, which only emphasises how far we have removed our relationship to it, and in particular how we are so keen on destroying it. It’s a wonderfully unique and unforgettable experience of a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, and I for one can’t wait to see what this creative team come up with next.

8/10 ‘Border’ is out now.

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.