Border (Gräns) is a film that is hard to describe unless you have seen it. It’s an intelligent film that is a mix of romance, gritty crime/noir, social realism, and supernatural horror. Destined to be a cult classic, this is the second feature from Iran-born, Denmark-based director Ali Abbasi is based on a short story by “Let the Right One In” author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Lindqvist also co-wrote the screenplay along with Abbasi and his Danish Film School colleague Isabella Eklöf. Border is a film which has so much going for it, but in the end it feels a little disjointed and too smart for its own good.
The film’s protagonist is the sympathetic outsider Tina (Eva Melander, who manages to give a strong performance despite sporting a deforming latex mask and a more-than-four-hour daily application of prosthetic disfigurements). Her jutting forehead, wide nose, prominent teeth, blotchy skin, and body hair make her appear sub-human — and then there’s that mysterious scar above her tailbone. Tina isn’t normal, but she tries her hardest to fit into society.
Her efforts have paid off, as Tina is a highly respected member of the Swedish customs team port, with a perfect record of apprehending perpetrators. She has an extraordinary sense of smell that allows her to sense guilt and shame, for example when she comes across a suspected sex offender she describes his scent as ”Shame and sex.” Even the Swedish police tap Tina’s unique talents in a subplot created by Abbasi and Eklöf that expands the themes of Lindqvist’s original story.
One day at work, Tina stops Vore (Eero Milonoff) who is definitely not what he seems. Like Tina, Vore is an outsider with some very unusual habits. With Vore, Tina finally finds a partner who completes her in every way and one whose special knowledge unlocks the secrets of her past. The two of them seem a match made in heaven and have the most strangest, and original love-making scene that is going to be one of this year’s most memorable scenes. Vore is everything that Tina isn’t, and he is angry at the world. And, Vore is determined to seek revenge against human-kind.
Border has some strong elements to it. Director Abbasi manages to juggle so many disparate plot elements and then brings them together for a devastating climax that builds up in such a way that is completely unexpected and brutal. Tina’s voyage of discovery unfolds alongside an investigation into a paedophile ring, troubles with her aged father and her growing attraction to Vore.
The narrative is unpredictable, and certain things do not get resolved which is somewhat frustrating. Just like Let the Right One In provided some unique contributions to vampire lore, Border also deals with the characteristics of certain creatures from Norse mythology and folktales. To say more would definitely be a spoiler, but once all is revealed then it all becomes clear.
The film’s strength lies with Eva Melander’s performance as Tina. Her character is well-written, developed and complicated. The viewer feels for Tina and her plight, she seems like such a lonely creature that is honestly trying to do some good in the world. Eero Milonoff is suitably seductive and revolting as the mysterious Vore. Both actors manages to support each other and have strong on-screen chemistry.
The complex relationship between them lies at the heart of a film and is a gothic romance that is unique and original in some many ways. It is also worth mentioning the visual effects team (Peter Hjorth and Mikael Windelin) for astonishing creations, and to the makeup department (Pamela Goldammer, Göran Lundström, Cristina Malillos, Pierre Olivier Persin, Erica Spetzig) for prosthetics so believable that they don’t seem to be prosthetics.
The film looks bleak with its muted colour pallet, and certain scenes are depressing and hard to comprehend and process. Some may struggle to deal with certain elements of the film, and certain plot points unravel slighty. Gräns may have tackled too many subjects but manages to create an interesting complex tale of romance which really captures what everyone craves, companionship. Border is an unusual film, and it will certainly stay with you well after the credits have rolled.