A priest, a hunter and his dog and a machinist join forces to hunt down a man living underground in the forest. We have no idea what he's done to make them murderous, but he has an escape plan, rousing both Ludwig (Alex van Warmerdam) and Pascal (Tom Dewispelaere) from their earthen tombs as he flees. He wanders through an elite neighborhood, boldly knocking on doors to request a bath. Doors are slammed in his face, but when he gets to the home of Richard (Jeroen Perceval, "Bullhead") and Marina (Hadewych Minis), his provocations result in an extreme beating. But Richard and Marina have not seen anywhere near the last of "Borgman."
Writer/director Alex van Warmerdam's ("Grimm") latest parable is dark, tense and often funny, playing like a mashup of "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and Hanaeke's "Funny Games," but just when you think you've got a handle on his meaning, events conspire to undermine it. "Borgman" is one of those films whose individual scenes are greater than the whole.
When Borgman (Jan Bijvoet, "The Broken Circle Breakdown") first breaks out of his lair, he could be a cousin to Denis Lavant's Merde of "Tokyo!," but he cleans up in a gas station bathroom before approaching strangers (a second transformation brings him closer in appearance to Christoph Waltz). His boldness includes outright lies, yet from the beginning, Richard is troubled by the man's claim to know his wife. She, in turn, is disturbed by her husband's violence, but when she checks outside, the stranger is gone. Later that night, with Richard having left for his office, Marina sees a light flicker in an outdoor shed, but there's no one there. 'I'm here' says a voice from behind her inside the house and Marina finally goes along with the man's request of a bath. She feeds him, dresses his wounds and tells him he can stay the night, but Borgman wants more. Marina folds with a firm demand that he keep himself unseen, but she keeps finding Borgman - as well as wolfhounds and a whippet - in her house, often with her children.
With the assistance of Brenda (Warmerdam's wife, Annet Malherbe) and Ilonka (Eva van de Wijdeven), two other members of his weird tribe, Borgman rids the family of their gardener (Gene Bervoets, "The Vanishing") to enable an elaborate ruse with Ludwig and Pascal to get himself hired (also illustrating Richard's xenophobia and racism and Borgman's sway over the family's youngest, Isolde (Elve Lijbaart)). Richard doesn't recognize the clean cut man and takes him on. Soon Ludwig and Pascal are operating digger trucks in the back yard, but Richard and Marina miss the significance of their new landscaping design. Meanwhile, Marina's dealing petulantly with their other help, nanny Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen), refusing to allow her boyfriend to sleep over unless he comes to dinner so she can pass judgement.
That Warmerdam uses Stine's boyfriend (Mike Weerts) as another turn of the screw against Richard is one of the aspects of his screenplay that doesn't quite come into focus, despite it's providing another dark chuckle. Richard and Marina are ripe for skewering, but Borgman's methods take no prisoners, innocents falling in the path of his target (their disposal is a gruesome, inventive visual joke). If he's simply a malevolent creature tearing lives apart, why put those lives under the microscope? What's most effective about "Borgman" is Bijvoet's mixture of aggressive boldness and reason, his 'creepy crawling' around his benefactress's home even leading to the repeated invasion of her dreams, a homeless demon.
"Borgman" is sinister and suspenseful with shock effect laughs. One just wishes it fell together a little more cleanly - it's like a puzzle with a few pieces missing.
Robin also gives "Borgman" a B-.
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