Written and Directed by Ali Abbasi
Short Story written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
In a time when there is a strong desire to erect partitions, Ali Abbasi’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (Let the Right One In) Border is a bizarre but necessary tonic. Abbasi employs a disparate combination of themes, but they conjoin to demand the audience to reflect upon what it means to be human, as well as the interweaving issues of racism and discrimination in this dark fairytale, yet Border is as much a romance as it is a grim version of an Aesop’s fable.
Tina (Eva Melander), a customs officer who borders the peripheries of social groups, is markedly divided from the rest of society due to her appearance, as well her inexplicable ability to sniff out crime. Initially appearing dour and slightly aggressive in her facial expressions, we quickly realise that this is a defense mechanism against the constant barrage of stares and rejection that she has grown accustomed to. Instead of being treated as an equal, she is consistently viewed as a commodity by the people and structures in her life; in her job as a customs officer she plays the role of a blood hound, with her father she is the dutiful and obliging daughter, and with her partner she is the landlord and bread winner, ensuring that she feels more like a lodger in her own home. It’s no spoiler that our protagonist is superhuman, but not in the manner that we’ve grown accustomed to; there are no capes, no conjured images of latex suits and zero percent body fat, but instead, a superhero of morality that we all need in this complex time.
Isolation is everywhere for Tina, as she has spent her life literally being an outsider looking in, an image which Abbasi reiterates throughout. Yet despite constant rejection she has never stopped craving affection and acceptance from those close to her, but it’s never people with whom she feels fully at ease, instead only immersion in nature and connections with animals help her to feel comfortable with her true self. That is, until Vore.
In comparison to the imagery of the cold, metal confines of the customs office, when Vore arrives on the scene, there’s a sensory overload of heat and passion. For the first time in her life, Tina sees a literal reflection of herself in someone else, and the sexual tension is palpable. But despite the fact that they are incredibly visually similar, and driven by instinctual forces, we quickly deduce that Vore is intrinsically different from Tina; he’s more self-servient, and clearly enjoys the powerful effect that his appearance imparts on the general population. He possesses a sense of confidence and awareness that Tina is drawn to, as she has faced rebuke her entire life. Vore encourages her to embrace her own nature, which she is initially uncomfortable with, as it is too at odds with the customs she has grown up in, but yet she manages to maintain her own sense of self while embracing her true instincts. We see an unabridged joy in her as she opens up around her equal, which is truly lovely to be privy to, but we are eventually forced to question whether she has let her desire for Vore cloud her senses, and whether he could in fact be her kryptonite, leaving her in the midst of an existential crisis.
Border cannot be extracted from Scandinavian mythology, yet the physicality and personality of our protagonists make it undeniably original and nuanced. Melander gives a stellar portrayal, as despite being under a thick layer of prosthetics, we feel every modicum of emotion through her expressions and become so involved with the character, that we yearn for her happy ending. Milonoff gives a tense and rich performance, sparking off Melander’s desires and vulnerability with chemistry as electric as the lightening that their characters fear so much. Had it not been in the talented hands of Abbasi; Border could possibly have ended up being a gratuitous ensemble of sex scenes and depravity, but his strategic use of pauses, tension, and sound cultivate a surprisingly tender atmosphere.
In a time when America is hell bent on building walls and the UK is determined to reinstate divides, the core message of Border is essential; either we maintain our compassion or we lose our sense of self. We are introduced to how casual the racism towards Tina is very early on, as she intercepts a youth at customs who whispers how much he hates her “kind”, even after she shows him leniency, as from the mouths of babes comes the truths of our fathers. Borders is resonant, rooted in nature, and inextricable from the legends in which it was formulated, but even more pressing, it has echoes of a history that humanity will be destined to repeat if we’re not more mindful of our present.