by Hope Madden
Sometimes knowing yourself means embracing the beast within. Sometimes it means making peace with the beast without. For Tina—well, let’s just say Tina’s got a lot going on right now.
Eva Melander is Tina, a woman resigned to the solitary existence of an outsider. Her “chromosomal malady” has left her unbecoming to most of the people in her Danish border town, but it’s also gifted her with senses that allow her to notice criminals by the way they smell.
Those senses are thrown, though, by a stranger (Eero Milonoff) who makes her feel, for the first time in her life, that she’s not alone.
Border director/co-writer Ali Abbasi has more in mind than your typical Ugly Duckling tale, though. He mines John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (Let the Right One In) short story of outsider love and Nordic folklore for ideas of radicalization, empowerment, gender fluidity and feminine rage.
The result is both a sincere crime thriller and a magical fantasy. A perfect meshing of Michael Pearce’s 2017 indie Beast and Alex van Warmerdam’s dark 2013 folk tale Borgman, Border still manages to be entirely its own creature.
Melander is a force of nature under impressive prosthetics. Her fearless performance, one that requires an arc that feels simultaneously backward and progressive, guarantees that no matter the bracing images or ugly narrative, you will not look away. You won’t be able to.
Milonoff also impresses, as does a cast of support players blessed with an unusual and fittingly untidy storyline.
There are moments in Border that should have felt silly while others could easily have tipped into lurid territory, but they never do. Abbasi’s respect for his characters keeps even the most outlandish scenes on track. He boasts an impressive aptitude for blending a fantastical fairy tale nature with the realism of a thriller without ever losing one thread for the other.
The result is a film quite unlike anything else, one offering layer upon provocative, messy layer and Abbasi feels no compulsion to tidy up. Instead, he leaves you with a lot to think through thanks to one unyieldingly original film.