True to its tagline, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s new screenplay is indeed “a love story unlike any other” in certain senses – but on the other side of the coin, it is a wholly predictable and often misguided whodunit thriller just like every other.
Warning: This review contains mild spoilers.
It’s no surprise that the mind behind the brilliantly twisted Let The Right One In would have come up with a film like Border. On paper, the film’s premise seems fully up Lindqvist’s alley – a love story between two societal outcasts, with the extra revelation that the lovers aren’t even human at all, but supernatural creatures lifted straight from Scandinavian mythology. And yet, where Let The Right One In hit all of the right notes, Border somehow fails to be nearly as compelling – it is a film that places all its cards on the table from the start. The cards that are face-up are dead giveaways for the ending, and the cards that are face-down barely interest the viewer long enough for them to stay on for the reveal.
Border revolves around Tina, an extremely and unavoidably ugly border agent working at a Swedish ferry port who can (literally!) sniff out contraband on people passing through. When she isn’t at work receiving abusive comments from travellers who fail to get past her or disparaging looks from her own colleagues, she returns home to a loveless life in a rural cabin with her “boyfriend” Roland, who she only keeps around for some semblance of company, as opposed to any real feelings of love. This cycle of despair is soon broken, however, by two uncanny new factors in her life. Firstly, there is Vore, an individual who shares Tina’s conventionally repulsive features, who she finds herself irresistibly drawn as both a possible lover and a piece in the puzzle of her own past and identity. And then there is the Scandinavian child porn ring that Tina is pulled into investigating, after she manages to sniff out an incriminating hard drive tucked away into a visitor’s phone case.
As is the rule with all good mysteries, the conclusion never comes as a deus ex machina plot twist but as an intertwining of all other plot strands instead. Unfortunately, with Border, there are only two things going on all times, and the only way the film’s conclusion remains hidden from viewers for as long as it does is owed entirely to the first act’s total and utter failure to establish any given direction for the movie. When the film finally makes its destination known, the clouds clear for miles – the ending is in sight long before we are anywhere near it, and the folkloric embellishments that Ajvide Lindqvist gives his story do nothing to distract from the fact that we are being taken on a journey that we have been on thousands of times before.
Tina and Vore’s love story is indeed one that has not been seen onscreen before, but the only two defining factors that set it on its rickety pedestal are the lovers’ unconventional features and the supernatural elements of their story. Their anti-fairytale is designed to disgust and repel its otherwise captive audience at each and every turn, forcing us to confront societal notions of beauty head on – after all, their story would be no different were they not so objectively unattractive. Everything you’d expect to happen otherwise does indeed happen – the sexual tension between Tina and Vore builds and builds, coming to a head when Roland leaves the cabin for a dog show, and Roland eventually gets evicted in favour of Vore becoming Tina’s new lodger and lover. In terms of originality, their story really is nothing new, in the same way that beauty – or ugliness – is only skin deep.
Other elements of it are completely offensive at worst, or serve as ham-handed social commentary at best. The revelation that Tina and Vore are both intersex and inhuman “trolls” seem to correlate these two facets of their identities in a way that dehumanises transgender and intersex people as sub-human individuals, who should just accept that they are doomed to spend their lives being ostracised by society (and, on another level, individuals who can only be represented onscreen as perfect if they are not even human in the first place). Sure, Ajvide Lindqvist’s writing never explicitly sends such a message, but the weight of such implications are heavy enough as Vore and Tina are depicted as finding happiness only when they are their most animalistic, and especially when one considers that there is absolutely no other reason for the trolls to all be intersex except to possibly spark some further disgust in more prejudiced viewers. It’s a sad indictment on the film industry – that we are back to dehumanising others for entertainment gimmicks. Unfortunately, with Border, there’s no hiding from this truth, just like there’s no hiding from Tina’s sharp nose.
All in all, Border feels less like a film and more like a house of cards that Ajvide Lindqvist and director Ali Abbasi precariously erected around an otherwise promising cornerstone concept. In some ways the film is almost too ambitious; juggling more than several weighty ideas and messages that often get delivered very badly through the warped lens of this neo-folkloric love story. Other times it is simply not enough; serving up a half-baked child porn subplot that offers no real satisfaction when resolved. Much like the changelings that are briefly mentioned in its more mythologically-leaning moments, there are many other forms that Border could have taken – and perhaps, in hindsight, should have taken. But this? This isn’t it.
Image: British Film Institute