Ali Abbasi’s Border is a strange breed of film, much like its protagonist, Tina (Eva Melander) – a border control officer with a bizarre ability to smell illegal activity. Abbasi reimagines a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the “Swedish Stephen King”, ambitiously melding crime drama, mythological fantasy and arthouse horror.
Those who have avoided the reviews are in for shocks early on, with a string of fantastical reveals concerning Tina’s heritage. The bizarreness of these images often borders on comical, but they manage to remain grounded by touching on deeply human politics, and issues of striking relevance at that: belonging, sex, gender, deformity. However, there are too many pivotal moments which rely on rehashed formula to generate intrigue – think the mutant baby scene of Lynch’s Eraserhead, but to a lesser effect, and three times over.
Border is at its most enchanting during Tina’s interactions with wild animals, Nordic forests and lakes. Yet Abbasi steers away from fairy-tale stylings by applying the same realism to both crime drama and folklore; the forest takes on a haptic quality with his focus on moss, soft dirt, and grubby fists – a masterful backdrop for the film’s more visceral reveals.
Abbasi’s added crime subplot, though brief, offers some of the thrill and tension lacking in other scenes, which are too filled with curious happenings to hold much else. However, Border is ultimately spread too thin; hopping between mundanity and vast discovery, the pace suffers and becomes a bit bumbling. Awkwardness can be felt elsewhere too; the incessant grunting and sniffing between Tina and her counterpart Vore (Eero Milonoff) is enough to put off the most diligent viewer.
For those that can adjust to the weirdness there lies rewards; Border’s daring moments pulsate with life. But it struggles to stay cohesive and compelling under the weight of its own ambitious fusions.
CAST: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Viktor Åkerbolm
DIRECTOR: Ali Abbasi
WRITERS: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay; based on Lindqvist’s short story ‘Gräns’)
SYNOPSIS: A border control officer with a gift for smelling immorality meets an intriguing traveller who holds some answers to her true identity.