A lonely customs guard finds her soulmate, sort of, in “Border,” a bizarre and rather grim fairy tale from Sweden.
Tina (played by Eva Melander) is no princess. With her heavy brow line and stern look, she’s more ogre than fair maiden. But she has a special talent for smelling people’s fear, a gift that makes her well suited to her job as a guard at a customs station at a ship terminal.
Tina can tell with just a sniff who’s trying to smuggle in excess alcohol, or who’s trying to smuggle a memory card loaded with child porn. When this second incident happens, Tina even helps a local police detective (Ann Petrén) track down the porn ring responsible for the images.
One day on the job, Tina sniffs out something different: A mysterious traveler, Vore (Eero Milonoff), with a knapsack filled with his tools to collect bugs. Vore also smiles at Tina, something few people do, and it unnerves her. When Vore keeps stopping at Tina’s station on subsequent trips, it unnerves her even more. When they see each other in Tina’s off-hours, Vore shows her how much they have in common — in a supernatural twist I won’t even bother divulging it here because you wouldn’t believe me anyway.
Director Ali Abbasi — who co-wrote with Isabella Eklöf and John Ajvide Lindqvist (on whose short story this is based) — performs the difficult trick of keeping our belief suspended even through this outlandish reveal. He’s aided greatly by Melander, who earns our sympathy even through some odd facial prosthetics.
The suspension doesn’t last all the way to the end, though, as Abbasi navigates some jarring tone shifts and a grating early plot thread that makes an unwelcome reappearance in the climax. Still, give “Border” credit for daring to be different, and daring to find timely questions about strangers within a monster-movie premise.
Opened October 26 in select cities; opens Friday, November 30, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language. Running time: 110 minutes. In Swedish, with subtitles.