NZIFF – Borgman
Not so much an out-and-out horror as a slow burn creeper Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman keeps its antagonists shrouded in a veil of mystery as it plays out a kind of supernatural body snatchers type story. The Dutch—yes, Dutch!— film kicks off with a great sequence of a rural posse being, gathered replete with local priest, to hunt down some mysterious underground dwelling people. Smoked out of their holes they disperse to find a new location. Their apparent leader the eponymous Borgman eventually makes his way to luxurious modern designer dwelling and, through a series of events, takes up residence on their grounds. The bulk of the story plays out at this family home as Borgman and his enclave slowly ingratiate themselves into the household and odd changes begin to occur.
The story unfurls like a folktale or fable: you can imagine villagers from long ago relating frightening tales of such beings and happenings to keep the kids in line or make sense of unexplained natural phenomena. This sense of folktale is reinforced by the fact that the aforementioned opening sequence feels quite ambiguous as to temporal setting—at first I thought it might be a period piece but the setting and props quickly resolve into a present day backdrop. Tonally Borgman falls somewhere between an indie thriller-horror such as Jeremy Saulnier’s recent Blue Ruin and something more surreally off kilter like Giorgos Lanthimos’s twisted ‘family drama’ Dogtooth. At first it’s not clear who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘bad guys’. As the story unfolds the situation ostensibly clarifies…but then things progress further still and we’re left with a lot of questions about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ and a sense that maybe the right and wrong of things isn’t as cut and dried as it had begun to appear. This ambiguity runs right through Borgman. Odd narrative occurrences are pointedly marked in the film but left unexplained. And although there is clear ending there is little in the way of resolution. This has sparked some interesting post screening discussion with viewers attempting to make sense of the film. I think this was a clever conscious choice by the filmmakers and it’s out of the ordinary when compared to standard Hollywood fare where all loose ends need tidying up except for the obvious sequel thread left hanging. Instead the filmmakers keep us guessing while the eerie underlying feeling never lets up.
The key cast make a good showing led by Jan Bijvoet’s enigmatic Camiel Borgman; one minute a benevolent old man the next evincing an emotionally flat alien like presence. The director appears in a central support role as Luwig, one of Borgman’s henchmen/brothers. Hadewych Minis as the artist mother of the central household Marina seems at a loss as to the best tone on occasion and the nanny Stine played by Sara Hjort Ditlevsen comes off a little one-note but these are fairly minor quibbles. The music, written/arranged by the director’s brother Vincent, perfectly underscores the air of unease as does the slight coolness and under-saturation of the colour in what are often bright scenes. All the elements combine to express a pleasingly ‘off’ feeling. Borgman is not a perfect film but it is intriguing and unpredictable which puts it several steps in front of the pack and makes it a shoo in for creeper genre fans.
Rating: R16 Content may disturb, offensive language, and violence.