BIG ISSUE NATIONAL VENDOR WEEK
LEARN MORE
Film

'Border' review – bleak Scandi fable finds beauty in the eye of the beholder

Let The Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist's latest offering is more than an outsider love story – there's a horror among the beauty that makes it a compelling watch, says Graeme Virtue

If we know anything about human nature, it is that love can blossom in the most unpromising places. A cruddy roll-on, roll-off ferry servicing a remote Swedish port might not seem like a promising hotbed of animal attraction despite the near-constant bump and grind of industrial clanking. But in the ambiguous Border, this cheerless, workaday setting – or at least the rickety customs declaration table passengers try to amble past casually as they disembark – is the launchpad for a cryptic romance, one fit for a Scandi fairytale.

In her ill-fitting Tullverket uniform, Tina (Eva Melander) initially looks like a rather timid customs agent, a 40-year-old dogsbody with lifeless hair, crooked teeth and a regretfully prominent brow. Despite her drab appearance, Tina is extraordinarily good at her job, capable of detecting ne’er-do-wells attempting to smuggle contraband into Sweden. Her uncanny skill at nosing out those carrying excess booze – or worse – does not seem to give her any pleasure, though. The closest Tina comes to anything like happiness is roaming alone in the wild woodland near her remote cabin, wordlessly contemplating bark and bugs.

She has a feckless, apathetic live-in partner who clearly feels much more for his dogs than for her and a widowed father in care who is apparently losing his grip on the past. For Tina, it looks and feels like a life half-lived, until she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff). While she sees some of her own physical characteristics reflected back – a similarly protruding forehead, a snaggletooth mouth – this stranger walks with something approaching swagger. With long curly locks, some vaguely musketeer-ish bristles and a generous dollop of self-confidence, Vore resembles a Cro-Magnon version of Jay Rayner.

It takes a slow-burning, elliptical hour before Border chooses to reveal its true nature

As Vore flirtatiously pursues Tina and encourages her to be true to herself, you might feel like Border is settling into a familiar groove of outsider romance: the dowdy wallflower who has her neglected passions reignited by a carefree rebel who shows her that trying to fit in with societal norms is for squares. Certainly, Tina’s fascination with Vore propels her far beyond her usual routines, and overlaps with an expansion in her professional horizons as she assists a grisly police investigation with her weird powers of detection.

It takes a slow-burning, elliptical hour before Border chooses to reveal its true nature and even if you have been able to intuit some of its wilder curveballs, it is a film that seems determined to explore – or at least mirror – the darker side of humanity as much as celebrate the electroshock joy of discovering a true connection. At first, it seems like Melander and Milonoff are required to give restrained performances because of their facial prosthetics but once the relationship between Tina and Vore deepens, their expressive range expands dramatically, demonstrating the ingeniousness of Border’s Oscar-nominated makeup.

For all its intimate scale and recognisably mundane setting, Border gradually becomes a film of surprising extremes and while Tina remains a compelling presence throughout it may end up being too overwhelming for anyone simply in the market for an offbeat love story. The juxtaposition of creeping horror with the everyday has become a calling card of John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the ingenious vampire story Let The Right One In and here he adapts his own short story for the screen in collaboration with Iranian-Swedish director Ali Abbasi and writer Isabella Eklöf. The result is an earthy, unpredictable fable interspersed with moments of bleak Nordic beauty and a movie well worth sniffing out.

★★★★☆

Border is in cinemas from March 8

National Vendor Week 2024

A celebration of people who are working their way out of poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Behind Oscar-tipped doc Four Daughters: A story of radicalisation, family and loss
Sisters Tayssir and Eya, two of the subjects of the new film Four Daughters
Film

Behind Oscar-tipped doc Four Daughters: A story of radicalisation, family and loss

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley: 'Why the hell are we still judging someone on how they look?'
Film

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley: 'Why the hell are we still judging someone on how they look?'

Dune: Part Two review – deluxe space opera with a discreet safety net
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides and ZENDAYA as Chani in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE: PART TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Film

Dune: Part Two review – deluxe space opera with a discreet safety net

Photojournalist Lanre Fehintola didn't just record life on the edge – he became the story
Film

Photojournalist Lanre Fehintola didn't just record life on the edge – he became the story

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know