MUBI UK film review: Border
Matthew Turner | On 09, Mar 2019Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Ali Abbasi
Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petren, Sten Ljunggren
Watch Border online in the UK: MUBI UK
Based on a short story from Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In), this delightfully strange genre mash-up is unlike anything else you’ll see all year. Directed by Ali Abbasi, the film skilfully blends elements of Scandi-crime drama, dark romance and twisted fairy tale into something wholly original.
The film’s protagonist is Tina (Eva Melander in heavy prosthetics), a Swedish customs officer who believes she suffers from a chromosomal disorder that has left her with a heavy brow, jutting teeth, a wide nose and unusual body hair. However, she also possesses a phenomenal sense of smell that makes her perfectly suited to her job, as she’s able to sniff out guilt and fear and is never wrong when picking out a smuggler.
One day, while at work, Tina is astonished to meet Vore (Eero Milonoff), who appears to share her exact same deformities. Bored with her indifferent, dog-obsessed live-in boyfriend, Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), Tina begins an affair with Vore, who helps her make a startling discovery about her true background. Meanwhile, the local police ask Tina to help sniff out a paedophile ring in a nearby town.
As that somewhat vague synopsis indicates, it’s fair to say that Border is one of those films where the less you know going in, the better. Suffice it to say that the story takes some decidedly unpredictable turns and that those moments are what gives the film its unique strangeness.
With so many conflicting genres to balance (as well as thriller, romance and fairy tale, there are also elements of black comedy and body horror), Abbasi does a terrific job of maintaining a consistent tone. He’s aided by some atmospheric camerawork from cinematographer Nadim Carlsen (the gloomy palette very much resembles Scandi-crime thrillers), as well as suitably mysterious music and sound design by Christian Holm.
The performances are extremely impressive, especially when you consider that both leads are acting beneath several layers of Oscar-nominated prosthetics. Melander, in particular, is superb, illuminating Tina’s journey of self-discovery with a series of subtle changes and bringing real heart to an ostensibly grotesque character. Milonoff is equally good as the enigmatic Vore and there’s enjoyable comic support from Thorsson, while Sten Ljunggren is excellent as Tina’s father, whose apparent dementia makes it easy for him to conceal his knowledge about her background.
As the Oscar nomination suggests, the make-up and special effects are exemplary, with one scene in particular guaranteed to leave your jaw on the floor. Credit is unquestionably due here to the imaginative contributions of visual effects maestro Peter Hjorth and prosthetic supervisor Goran Lundstrom.
The script is slightly less successful. The film works well as an allegory for the experience of being an outsider (director Abbasi is Iran-born but based in Denmark) and the love story-slash-fairy tale part of the story is utterly captivating, but the thriller side of things is less well developed and the whole paedophile ring subplot could probably have used a rewrite. Nonetheless, this is a one-of-a-kind genre hybrid that’s simultaneously suspenseful, moving, charming and creepy.
Border is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, until 11th August 2019.