Some films defy any sort of classification or genre. Sweden’s Official 2018 Oscar Entry, “Border,” consistently morphs into a different tale as it progresses. Many films of this nature run the risk of feeling disjointed or unfocused. However, “Border” uses the different genre conventions to inform each other. On one hand, it’s a misfit romance. At the same time, this feeling of otherness illuminates actions that stray closer to horror.
Films like this are best to go into as blind as possible. On the surface, the film focuses on Tina (Eva Melander), a disfigured border agent. She uses her uncanny ability to sniff out trouble (literally) to catch smugglers. This ranges from matters as serious as potential child abusers to teens in possession of alcohol. One day, a mysterious stranger named Vore (Eero Milonoff) arrives, sharing Tina’s same disfigurement. His arrival shakes up Tina’s world as she seeks to learn more about him. This bare bones plot description gives little insight into the strange, wonderful and horrifying viewing experience “Border” is. However, that’s part of the fun of experiencing it fresh.
What develops between Tina and Vore constitutes one of the most interesting pairings of the year. Their surface similarities immediately bond them. What they unlock in each other ranges from heartwarming to terrifying. It’s a testament to both Melander and Milonoff that they are able to create such a well defined and unique chemistry that constantly changes with the story. Their scenes along Tina’s forest and river allow for each performer to unleash their inner id while still pushing their emotional journeys forward.
This emotional journey keeps the film on track, despite frequent tonal recalibration. Director Ali Abbasi juggles multiple tones and storylines thanks to the strength of this central relationship. His camera holds on the more mundane elements of Tina’s life to lull us into a false sense of complacency. The way he uses the light blue of the water, even on hazy days, provides the audience with a similar freeing comfort that Tina and Vore feel. The harsh, sterile light of Tina’s border office reeks of a discomfort we wish to escape. There’s a strong directorial voice visually and thematically that makes “Border” a real treat to behold.
However, Eva Melander walks away with the movie. She disappears into the performance. We’re beguiled, intrigued and curious about Tina from the beginning scenes which show her day to day existence. She conveys the added weight each action carries with it while she’s out in public. There are rude snickers and a tangible feeling of otherness that Tina is all too aware of. Melander subtly contrasts this with her private life, where she feels less encumbered and more free to be difficult or displeased. Most of all, she just seems tired for having to carry people’s expectations and baggage with her throughout the day. Her encounter with Vore opens up a possibility for Tina to feel a normalcy she rarely finds in the outside world. Melander does wonders at expressing all these layers throughout the changing tones of the piece.
Even more noteworthy is the makeup used to create Tina and Vore’s facial deformities. Yes, the actors equip themselves well to act with full face prosthetics. However, the team behind the art makes them look fully believable. This impeccable craft work serves the twists and turns later on. However, it’s a real testament to what certain teams can do with subtle practical effects to enhance the central emotional journey of the film. In many ways, this exemplifies what makes “Border” such a treat. It appears to be a quiet, unassuming film. Then, it plays on your perceptions and undermines them. In the end, it gives you an experience you were not fully prepared for, but are so glad you had.