Sometimes you might sense you're a little different from everyone else because you are.
That's the setup behind Grans (Border), a quietly eerie offering from Sweden that treats the mythical creatures we feared as children in the most mundane way possible.
84 Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petren, Sten Ljunggren, Kjell Wilhelmsen, Rakel Warmlander, Andreas Kundler, Matti Boustedt, Tomas Ahnstrand, Josefin Nelden
Director: Ali Abbasi
Rating: Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
That matter of fact approach worked beautifully in Let the Right One In, so it's not surprising that John Ajvide Lindqvist treats a different type of being the way he treated vampires in his novel and screenplay for that film as well. Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi approaches the supernatural without any sense that something magical is going on. Instead, he and Lindqvist (who share screenwriting credit with Isabella Eklof) let viewers figure out on their own why Tina (Eva Melander) is such an effective customs agent.
Without using a scanner or even opening the bags of passengers who get on and off a ferry, Tina inerrantly knows when they might be hauling contraband. Whether it's booze or even child pornography, Tina stops it from getting past her checkpoint.
She can literally smell if would-be smugglers are nervous about what they are hauling. The other agents take her at her word because her olfactory nerve is never wrong. Her face and her lip twitch as if she's a drug-sniffing dog about to pounce on a cocaine cowboy's loot. Tina's gift may come from the fact that her nose is swollen and misshapen, and the rest of her face looks as if she's recovering from a horrific accident.
Her father (Sten Ljunggren), however, says she was born that way, and thanks to Goran Lundstrom's expert makeup design, Melander looks as if she is something other than human, while still appearing completely lifelike.
Tina's curiosity about her origins grows when a passenger starts passing through her checkpoint. Vore (Finnish actor Eero Milonoff) looks like he could be her brother. He has the same thick hair and swollen facial features and oozes contempt for everyone else but her. He happily devours buffet dishes intended to feed dozens but doesn't put on a pound and has a special appetite for insect larvae.
Vore may be off-putting for most, but Tina finds him endlessly fascinating because he's a step up from the other men in her life. Her live-in boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorsson) constantly gropes her but offers no emotional support. That might have to do with the fact that he's more committed to the show dogs he raises than he is to her.
It's rare that horror movies or supernatural thrillers take top prizes at international festivals, but Border picked up Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year because it features two lead performances that are just as good as anything one might encounter in a more "serious" film.
Under all the prosthetics over her face, Melander consistently makes Tina sympathetic without cloying to get a viewer's attention. Tina says very little, but she clearly knows more than she tells her co-workers or her dad. Tina also helps people even though some unfairly deride her for her appearance.
Milonof, oozes contempt, and is almost likable because he flouts social norms that only allow snobs to look down on others.
Abbasi delivers formidable jolts because his deliberate pacing and low-key approach make the revelations all the more stunning. There's also an off-handed beauty to Border that comes from Tina's comfort with animals and the words themselves. After spending most of her day in a sterile terminal, hanging out in the trees with deer seems more inviting.
Border has some allegorical nods to the current situation with migrants in Europe, but the metaphor wouldn't be that interesting if the chills weren't in the film as well. Nobody cares about social observations if the story containing them isn't that involving.
MovieStyle on 12/07/2018
Print Headline: Grans (Border)