Monday, August 16, 2010

Short Review: 'Borderland' (2007)

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There seems to have been somewhat of a trend created in the last eight to ten years of horror films proclaiming to be either ‘based on’ or at the very least ‘inspired by’ true events. Such a shameless marketing ploy is intended to bestow upon a film additional relevancy and realism, titillating the audience into believing the majority of what they’re about to see actually happened. By and large, however, these films usually bare little resemblance to the original source material and are generally handled in such a phony, ham-fisted way that any and all authenticity is lost in the endeavor of relying on that moniker. And while it may not follow a detective’s case file word-for-word and to a T, Zev Berman’s Borderland (part of 2007’s After Dark Horrorfest) holds particular weight for its believable baring to the 1989 murder of Texas university student Mark Kilroy at the hands of a ruthless Mexican drug cartel involved in black magic and human sacrifice.

Post-graduate students Ed (Brian Presley), Henry (Jake Muxworthy) and Phil (Rider Strong) decide to celebrate spring break by crossing the border into Mexico City for a few days of boobs, booze and hallucinogenic drugs. One night during an especially substance-induced trip to the local fair, Phil is kidnapped by a truck load of goons and taken to a ranch on the outskirts of town where he is eventually met by Santillan (aka ‘Papa’, Beto Cuevas) and fed obscure information regarding his intended ‘future’ and fate. As Ed and Henry desperately search for their missing friend they soon learn that Phil is being held captive by a known criminal organization with the intent of sacrificing him to appease an ancient Afro-Cuban God.

From its brutal opening sequence featuring the ritualistic torture of a Spanish police officer while his partner is forced to watch, the cruel reality of Borderland’s universe is set firmly in motion. However, even with a scene as confronting as this it immediately becomes clear that Berman has no intention of creating a throwaway exploitation film but rather a highly credible drama situated within a world of horrific circumstances where the laws of justice bear no meaning. Sure, the screenplay takes more than its fair share of plot ques from more recent horrors such as Hostel and Turistas but where those films occasionally misfire with regard to the likelihood of their characters’ capacity to fight back so easily, Berman grounds his youths’ fear of their situation steadfast to the point that when they do retaliate they are more than sickened by their actions. None of the 20-somethings ever take the predictable heroic route of gallantly rising to the occasion without fear of being the next victim, nor do they inexplicably possess exceptional human strength in the face of certain death. Thus, as an audience witnessing these boy's predicament we are able to legitimately give a damn about their inevitable off-screen funeral service.

From a visual standpoint, Borderland is also spot on the mark. Scott Kevan’s gritty, desaturated cinematography is kinetic and exciting and perfectly compliments the impoverished urban landscapes of Mexico featured throughout. The rustic production design is bathed with an overwhelming sense of heat and perspiration and filled with terrifically creepy images and artefacts of religious symbolism and other hallowed iconography that further add to the unsettling atmosphere already established by the films’ opening minutes. Andres Levin’s score is suitably effective, if not unremarkable, and KNB again offers up a splattering of bloody effects work successfully emulating the nasty context of the violence at play.

To the uninitiated, Borderland may appear like just another run of the mill stupid-college-kids-get-killed-in-a-foreign-country movie, albeit this time one not that far from their homeland. What many films of its ilk forget, however, is that in order for an audience to have any emotional investment in a world so sadistic they must be able to relate to the pain of those enduring the nightmare. Borderland initiates that pain for its audience through the genuine disposition of its victims, making the aftermath all the more chilling via the real-life crimes that inspired it.

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Dir: Zev Berman
Writer: Zev Berman & Eric Poppen
Cast: Brian Presley, Jake Muxworthy, Rider Strong, Sean Austin
Country: Mexico/USA
Run Time: 105mins
Rating: MA15+

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