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Review: Crossing the Border isn’t easy, but its one-of-a-kind journey is worth the trip

In an entertainment landscape where content is coming at you all the time, its rare that a piece of film does something completely unpredictable. We know all the tropes, we’ve seen all the payoffs and the algorithm really does like to keep you in your comfort zone. That’s what makes Border such a harrowing surprise. It feels expressly designed to take you out of your comfort zone and the result is a movie that doesn’t do anything you might expect.

Tina (Eva Melander) spends her days working as a border guard sniffing out travellers with less than honourable intentions. And she’s good at it. Like, sixth-sense good. Because of her innate ability to sense the darkness in people she spends her nights in isolation at her remote cabin in the woods. There, despite a live-in boyfriend, she leads a lonely existence, more at home in the trees communing with animals than in her own house. Then she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff) at work, and her instant connection to this mysterious stranger kicks of a journey of self-discovery that leaves her caught between worlds.

This is a movie that actively works to defy categorization, existing at times as an ugly romance, a crime drama and a horror film. Director Ali Abbasi deftly brings all these elements together, though, in what is ultimately a compelling mystery. With muted cinematography and a camera that floats hand-held on the edges of Tina’s troubled existence, Border takes a Dogma 95 aesthetic and filters it through the disturbing surrealism of early David Lynch. 

Both Melander and Milonoff deliver astounding performances, committing to their characters in a way that forces audiences to lean in and cover their eyes at the same time. They explore the concepts of identity and place in the world with minimal dialogue creating performances that are both sympathetic and traumatic. The film asks a lot of these two actors, because as Abbasi takes these characters to darker and darker places, it relies on their performances to ground the movie, even as it spirals to an eerie finish.

Border is an unsettling, uncomfortable and unapologetic movie that quietly forces audiences to live in that nervous point in the pit of their stomach for almost two hours. It’s most certainly not a movie for everyone, but those brave enough to make the trip will be rewarded with an unshakeable cinematic experience.

Border screens at The Globe Cinema on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. For tickets go to https://www.calgaryundergroundfilm.org/off-the-cuff-border.

Jason Lewis is freelance writer and television producer who contributed a lot of film and music features to Fast Forward. 

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