Film Review: Border (Gräns)

Ali Abbasi’s Border (Gräns) is stark, different and engaging. The film is difficult to classify, which makes it all the more enigmatic. 

Tina is a Swedish customs officer. She has an extraordinary sense of smell, which lands her a gig helping the police. When she comes across Vore, Tina is beguiled by the mysterious stranger…

One of the great things about Border (Gräns) is that it is difficult to categorise. Directed by Ali Abassi, with a screenplay by Abassi, Isabella Eklöf, and John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on Lindqvist’s short story) the film is at different times a mystery, a love story, a crime thriller, and a fantasy. What keeps viewers intrigued is this ambiguity. It is unclear which direction Abbasi will take the narrative, which makes for interesting viewing. 

The main characters are well drawn. Tina elicits empathy from the beginning. The opening sequence of her looking towards the ferry and her brief actions here immediately give the audience a sense of her character. Abbasi here excels at making a statement without words. 

The film has two main strands with Tina at the helm for both. First is the burgeoning relationship with the mysterious Vore. Secondly, there is her extraordinary sense of smell and how it helps the police. This entwine later in proceedings, with certain indicators being laid out as the strands combine.

Border combines some of the grittiness of a crime drama with aspects of fantasy and folklore. This seems a strange combination, yet the film makes it work. The fantasy aspect is impacted the modern setting and contemporary preoccupation. The theme that becomes clear is morality, and Border explores this in an engaging fashion.

Special effects and prosthetics are very good in the film. Eva Melander is great as Tina, bringing humanity and sensitivity to the character. Some of the police investigation sequences are a little plodding, but Border is an original and interesting film.

Border (Gräns) is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: Let Me In

A remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, Let Me In does not stray too far from its antecedent. Although there are a few nice touches added to proceedings, overall this remake seems pretty pointless.

Owen is bullied at school and spends most of his time alone. When a girl moves in next door, he finally has a friend to hang out with. Abby’s arrival, however, coincides with a number of gruesome murders…

Director Matt Reeves follows the blueprint from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and subsequent screenplay, choosing to alter only minor aspects. Unlike the Swedish film, we are thrust right into the action in Let Me In. The film begins at a climactic moment; most of what follows is a flashback.

The relationship between Owen and Abby is endearing, despite the looming danger. It is difficult not to feel sympathy for Owen; the scenes of bullying are quite brutal. Given this environment, it seems reasonable that Owen would want to maintain his bond with his only friend, even after he finds out about her dark side.

There isn’t the same sense of androgyny to Abby as there is to Eli in Let The Right One In. Thus, her assertion that she is not a girl doesn’t have the same poignancy in the 2010 film. Abby is depicted more brutally than her predecessor, but still maintains a feeling of warmth towards her friend. The relationship between the children is convincing; it is easy to see why these two outsiders would bond.

Reeves’ shooting style is fluid, combining the hand-held style of his earlier film Cloverfield with more traditional techniques. Reeves does however make some interesting choices. The face of Owen’s mother, for example, is never shown clearly. The intention may have been to intensify Owen’s state of isolation and the lack of human warmth he receives. Nevertheless, the deliberate obscuring of his mother’s face becomes distracting, and is more reminiscent of Muppet Babies than anything else.

There was something very cold about Let The Right One In that made it so memorable. Let Me In tries to replicate that atmosphere, but is only partially successful. Although the settings are quite similar, there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of isolation that permeates the Swedish version. Despite its 1980s setting, Let Me In does not appear too removed from reality; there is more of an urgency in the film that cuts through the coolness.

Let Me In does offer some highlights, notwithstanding. The performances by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz are great, and the film boasts a fantastic 1980s soundtrack. Let Me In is incredibly bloody; a nod to Hammer Productions’ notorious past, perhaps.

Let Me In is a well-made film but is just too similar to Let The Right One In. Given that the Swedish version was released fairly recently, the new version appears quite futile. If an English-language version was required, surely dubbing would have been a sensible option.