Tina (Eva Melander) is a customs inspector at a Swedish ferry terminal. She has the appearance of a Neanderthal due to a congenital genetic condition and an unusual talent, the ability to sniff out guilt and fear. When she will not allow an apparent businessman to pass, she eventually finds what she is looking for in his phone, a card full of child pornography. But when she stops Vore (Eero Milonoff), even his suspicious possessions turn out to be innocent, leaving Tina at a loss. Except that Vore looks a lot like she does and when he next appears, Tina's curiosity is bubbling over at the "Border."
Laura's Review: B+
Based on a short story by "Let the Right One In's" John Ajvide Lindqvist, cowriter (with Isabella Eklöf)/director Ali Abbasi has crafted a dark fairy tale steeped in realism that is an allegory for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, especially those whose history includes oppression. Working beneath layers of prosthetics, makeup and an additional forty pounds, Eva Melander creates such a compelling, compassionate character, we find ourselves forgetting all about her unconventional looks. After a day at work in an institutional cement block, Tina returns to her home deep in the woods. She startles away from barking Rottweilers in a fenced pen, then enters the house to exchange 'how was your day?'s' with Roland (Jörgen Thorsson). It's unclear who this guy is other than the dogs' owner until Tina visits her dad (Sten Ljunggren) in a nursing home. He may be suffering from dementia, but he's delighted to see his daughter and his embarrassing questions shed light - he's concerned Roland is using his daughter for free room and board. It's odd that those dogs react so aggressively towards Tina because when she walks in the woods around her house a fox skittishly approaches her (it will later appear at her bedroom window in a magical moment), as does a moose. She is very in tune with the natural world. So why does Vore perplex her so? When he next arrives at her station, he doesn't wait to be called over, instead plunking his bag down. When nothing is found, Tina insists he has something. Her male colleague takes him for a body search and comes back shaken by what he's discovered. Tina goes to apologize to Vore, learns they share the same scar on their lower backs and where he will be staying. Of course Tina will visit him there, Vore's pull too strong, and she will be amazed by what they share, even after she herself describes it as 'gross.' She invites him to stay in her guest house, freaking out Roland who is clearly afraid of the stranger. As Tina begins to grow more involved with Vore, who seems to know more about her than she does herself, she's also called in by Agneta (Ann Petrén) to assist in the child pornography case she uncovered, sniffing out trouble at an apartment complex. These two big changes in her usual routine dovetail in unexpected ways with dramatic consequences for Tina's path going forward. The film is mysterious, a Grimm Brothers style outing featuring stolen children, woodland creatures and mythical beasts. It is also an allegory for real world horrors and an exploration of what makes us human. But once we reach its third act with newfound knowledge, "Border" becomes almost conventional as its plot demands conclusion. Melander's done her homework, her fabled sniffing involving not just her nose, but her upper lip, making the action animalistic. She's a mouth breather (Vore's huffs of air intake are his signature), her lower jaw hanging slack, but her eyes tell another story, focusing with suspicion or welling up in empathy. Hair and makeup are completely convincing transforming Melander and Milonoff. In one central, miraculous scene, Tina drives her panicked colleague Stefan (Tomas Åhnstrand) and his expectant wife Esther (Josefin Neldén) to the hospital. She stops on a dark road for no explicable reason, stressing the already anxious Stefan. Then he and his wife watch in amazement as two deer emerge from the forest and cross the road, lit by Tina's headlights. "Border" is a most unexpected experience. Grade: