I have something to declare: “Border” is one of the strangest movies of 2018.
A bizarre mix of fairy tale, horror movie and romance, Ali Abbasi’s film goes to I-can’t-believe-they’re-showing-this places (avoid spoilers like the plague if you’re going to see it) while still keeping an emotional connection to the main character. Some people will think this is the worst movie of the year. Others will love it. Both groups won't be able to stop talking about it.
Tina (Eva Melander) is a lonely customs agent working at a remote Swedish crossing. Ostracized by society for her bizarre, animal-like appearance, Tina has a phenomenal gift for sniffing out smugglers — literally. In one scene, she can tell a man is smuggling child pornography on his phone just by smelling the phone case. She’s like her own German shepherd.
Tina lives in the woods, where humans barely tolerate her but animals seem drawn to her. A fox she encounters seems more curious than afraid, and she absentmindedly pets a moose that wanders up next to her.
One day in the security line, she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff), a mysterious man who has nearly identical physical characteristics as herself. They both even have the same strange scar above their tailbones.
For the first time, Tina feels she may not be alone in the world. She’s both repulsed and attracted to him. He represents the wild animal side of her that she’s kept repressed all these years.
While both Milonoff and Melander have to wear a substantial amount of prosthetic makeup, they deliver powerful, visceral performances. They effectively show us the humanity within these strange people and their attraction to each other, but also convincingly unleash the base animal instincts. Their courtship builds to one of the least appealing sex scenes in recent cinema, with the lovers snarling and biting at each other like wolves. Might not want to bring food into the theater for this one.
Vore starts to teach Tina about her true nature, and she begins questioning the stories that her family told her about her birth. Drawing from both science-fiction stories and old Swedish folk tales, the screenplay by Abbasi and John Ajvide Lindqvist (“Let the Right One In”) builds an elaborate mythology for Tina, as she discovers her origin story.
“Border” is a movie that crosses plenty of boundaries, in its bizarre images and plot and in the depth of its emotions. And above all, it’s a love story, and the strangest thing may be how deeply we become invested in Tina’s quest to be loved and understood.
“I’m deformed,” Tina shyly says. “You’re perfect,” Vore insists. It’s like “Love Actually” for ogres.