Cannes 2018: Ali Abbasi's 'Border' is a Wacky, Wild Instant Cult Classic
by Alex Billington
May 10, 2018
It's fairly easy to throw around the phrase that a film is an "instant cult classic", but this time I really mean it. Border, which is the translation of the title Gräns in Swedish, is a new film from filmmaker Ali Abbasi (Shelley) and it just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. File this one under "what the fuck did I just watch?!?" It's one of those kind of "WTF" films, but it's actually damn good. The more I think about it, the more I love it, so quirky and ridiculous and weird and wild and disgusting yet surprisingly amusing and tender. The only problem - I don't want to give away the big reveal, and it's hard to talk about this film without discussing that aspect of it. For this early festival review, I'll be as vague as I can, and I won't spoil it - because this is best experienced without knowing the big reveal before watching it.
Border takes place in Sweden, far from any of the country's big cities. Eva Melander plays Tina, a very odd looking woman who works as a customs officer at a dock where big passenger ships arrive daily. She has the uncanny ability to smell the way people feel, allowing her to stop those who are secretly bringing in illegal contraband. Eva Melander wears extensive but seamless prosthetics on her face to give her a very ugly, off-putting look - which is explained later on in the film in the most "what?!" of ways. She lives a very peaceful, quiet life until one day a peculiar man, played by Eero Milonoff, arrives and seems to look very similar to her. From this point on, things only keep getting weirder and wackier and wilder and I still enjoyed the hell out of this. It's twisted and dark and silly and wholly one-of-a-kind, which is refreshing in a world with so many derivative and repetitive stories. Stay away from spoilers and experience this one as fresh as possible.
The screenplay is adapted from the latest novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, of Let the Right One In previously, one of my favorite vampire films in the last decade. His story structure is similar here, with the reveals and story beats playing out in unexpected yet captivating and often amusing ways. The film is darkly comedic, but also unsettling and just downright weird. It's going to earn a cult following because we've never seen anything like this and once you find out what's really going on - it goes even further, going right to all of the dark places you hope it will go. Abbasi pushes this one to all the extremes and gives us something that is going to be heralded as an outstandingly weird new film that practically creates an entirely new subgenre. As soon as this hits all the genre festivals later this year, horror fans are going to flip for this.
Once you get a chance to see Border, get in touch and then we can talk more about it. We can talk about how crazy weird and wild it gets, how much it goes in odd directions both expected and unexpected, and how wickedly enjoyable it is. We can talk about the exceptional lead performances, which kept me wondering if they were really wearing prosthetics or not, because I'll be damned if they aren't scarily believable. We can talk about how incredible of a writer John Ajvide Lindqvist is, and how we need to see more stories from him as soon as possible. And we can talk about everything else hidden in this fine film. It's not often these days we can say that this is something we've never, ever seen before on a big screen, but this is one of those times. And I cannot wait until everyone gets the chance to see this film for themselves. You won't be ready.
Alex's Cannes 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing