Review by Lila Taylor
You can watch the film for a limited time on channel 4: https://www.channel4.com/programmes/border.
Border (2018) is Ali Abbasi’s intense, dark fable of the modern world about misfit, Tina – an intuitive, level-headed customs officer.
The Swedish production is an intimate view of an unusual woman, Tina, who’s mundane life starts to unravel after meeting an oddly relatable stranger. It eventually spins into a grotesque exploration of anti-human nature, at times ranging from cringe-inducing, to [unintentionally] laughable, to just disturbing; at moments touching on clever.
Border does have its merits. The prosthetics along with well dispersed special effects are well crafted, it’s definitely distinct from other comparable films and its insidious progression will keep you intrigued. Its biggest strength are the lead actors, Eero Milonoff and especially Eva Melander, who made their narrative engaging with powerful emotional performances. In following Tina through her unfulfilling life into the events that she finds herself involved in, Melander and the creators managed to draw a warm-hearted, sympathetic connection between her and the viewers. There is a steady, tranquil pace to the build-up that allows time to understand Tina without being drawn-out or boring.
But, there are also some objectionable things that started to become very noticeable at around the first quarter of the film. There’s a slight tone problem from time to time (which adds to a broader impression of a lack of self-awareness); it’s unclear if you’re supposed to laugh at moments, and at other times, lingering shock makes it hard to engage in what is, possibly, meant to be romantic or sad; scenes are abrupt at tender moments or when it feels like more elaboration is needed; even the music sometimes felt disconnected from the scenes, sounding rough and jarring. On the other hand, maybe to the credit of the creators, this imbalanced tone does project a certain feeling of unease.
The main repelling thing about the film was that it was generally difficult to watch. The braggadocio forcefulness of repulsive scenes awkwardly tries to provoke the audience to excess. It was an interesting, original imagining, but erratically walked a line between being a smart dark thriller and an over the top project to prompt discomfort in the viewer. The exaggerated vileness made the film feel as if the creators got slightly carried away. What could have been an appealing development of the unique people we’re watching largely turned into disturbing caricatures of everything audiences could find unpleasant to look at, and the storyline does little to no justice to establishing thought-provoking complexities in the characters.
The meaning behind Border – which is a metaphor about minorities –, doesn’t make it more profound as, firstly, the qualities of the characters and the story are a questionable, or plain overly unflattering, way to reflect minorities, and secondly, the exaggerated features are too distracting to see the message buried underneath. The storyline, with its bizarre twists, are also quite unnecessary and even flawed, maybe because the main focus seemed to be on creating disturbing imagery over a disturbing narrative rather than exploring Tina as an outcast, as well as subsequent changes in her life and self-identity as she learns more about herself.
Border was overall disappointing. With a better plan of form, genre and character development, this could have been a much better film. Instead, it is a vast mind map of the most repugnant things to combine into a perplexing, nightmarish symphony, with which to assault the viewers senses.