A year in the land of movies is a peculiar specimen. From romcoms to action thrillers, to horror flicks and the more recently established comic book superhero genre, most bases are covered when it comes to satisfying consumer hunger. However, every so often a film comes along that throws the usual three or five-act structure out of the window, removing the labelling criterion and shouting no at the mainstream industry. More commonly referred to as cult movies, these displays of individuality arrive on our screens unexpectedly, but leave behind an experience like no other – not pleasing the many, but the few – and it is these few that can send a movie into the cult history books.
In the past, we have seen features such as Donnie Darko (2001), The Room (2003) and Napoleon Dynamite (2004) pioneer the genre, and more recently we have witnessed the release of Panos Cosmatos’s psychedelic action horror Mandy scream across screens nationwide. Now it is the turn of Border, the Swedish language film written and directed by Ali Abassi, adapted from John Aivide Lindqvist’s short story of the same title, to pick up the awe-inspiring mantle. With the movie submitted as Sweden’s contender for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, anticipation is high. The question is, does the enthusiasm felt by some wash over the interpretations of others?
Tina (Eva Melander) works as a customs officer at the Swedish Border, spending her days picking out shady individuals for inspection as they arrive off the ferry. A mundane job for some, but not for Tina, who seems to excel primarily thanks to her unusual ability to smell substances – and amongst all other things, guilt. Life isn’t easy for our protagonist. She has grown up understanding that she suffers from a chromosome fault, resulting in pronounced, beastly looking bodily features and a scar on her lower back from previous surgery. However, whilst working at the border crossing, Tina is stumped and perplexed by the unsettling presence of Vore (Eero Milonoff), a man who bears similar facial features and, like her, also has a special connection with nature. As the two get to know each other, the former discovers she is much more than what she has been brought up to believe, and an attraction between the pair reveals fantastical secrets about their real identity and place in this world.
This is certainly a fantasy film, but one that only reveals itself to be so after a certain amount of build-up and foundation-laying. Easing the viewer into such a plot is a methodical process for Abassi, who places each building block one at a time before even considering the introduction of an antagonist in any form. Once the film does kick into gear, it is the performances of the central cast members that leave the lasting influence. Melander will comfortably say she has never taken on a role quite like Tina. Playing a complex character facing a variety of trials and prejudices, the actor allows the audience to connect with the protagonist on an emotional level, if not a physical one, and with the introduction of Milonoff’s bullish Vore, the couple carry a love story that can be embraced – although darker undertones eventually tear this relationship and character study apart.
To the right audience, Border will be a smash hit; for others, not so much. Leaving genre conventions well behind, there are moments in the film that will entice viewers, yet other striking events that they may simply find too hard to comprehend. It is this unpredictable variety that makes the plot in its entirety a little nonsensical as it slips deeper and deeper into a fictional universe – which is a shame considering the underpinnings laid out in the first act. The movie is one that is difficult to love and yet the picture will have a cult following – and a large one at that. Border will be labelled “different” and “abstract” with little thought as to what the real undertones of the story are, but it is the adaptation from book to screen this time that leaves the vital relatability factor dwelling in the undergrowth as its character’s flit nakedly above it.
Border is released in select cinemas on 8th March 2019.
Watch the trailer for Border here: