Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Rider Strong, Brian Presley, Martha Higareda, Jake Muxworthy, Sean Astin
Directed by Zev Berman (interview)
I had not heard very flattering things about Borderland from those who had seen it before (it’s been done for about 2 years), so I went into the film with pretty low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a very solid, if not at times far too slow, entry in the After Dark Horrorfest.
The story follows three friends, Ed, Henry and Phil, who decide to head down to Mexico to indulge in some carnal desires and overall just unwind before they’re off to college in a few weeks. They aim to drink, get fucked up and, of course, have as much sex as they can.
Sounds like a familiar setup, right? Well, just wait, because it goes on. Phil (Strong) falls for the girl his friend set him up with to lose his virginity (in one of the more awkward scenes of the film) and after he wins a great big stuffed animal decides to take it to her and her baby even though he’s just ingested handfuls of mushrooms. Some Mexicans, introduced in the film’s opening scene butchering some cops, offer him a ride with far more nefarious intentions, but since he’s peaking on his trip, he takes their ride.
He wakes up in a shack, where an American guy (Astin, being very non-Sam Gamgee) tells him that he’s been chosen by someone called Poppa for a very special destiny, to give his life some meaning. Phil’s unaware that said destiny involves being a sacrifice to a Satanic entity so that Poppa, the leader of a drug cartel, and his ilk can be invisible to authorities and do their business for all time.
Yeah, it’s strange, but it is based on true events so don’t think it that odd.
Meanwhile, Phil’s friends are looking for him and eventually get the attention of Ulises (Damian Alcazar), one of the cops in the opening scene who was allowed to live by Poppa’s men so he could tell the police what kind of madman they were dealing with. Of course, the police listened to him up to the point about Satanic rituals so he’s now off the force and, for lack of a better term, stalking Poppa to try and bring them down.
The resulting confrontation on the ranch owned by Poppa by Ulises and Phil’s surviving friend was the point of the movie I was ripped clean from it, as they seem to get around way too easily and dispatch everyone with minimal effort, but other than that the pacing and action of Borderland really worked well for me. Of course I had gone in with the director’s perspective in my head, having just interviewed him, and I knew the comparisons to Hostel were likely far overblown. Indeed, other than the story of friends in a foreign land who lose one of their own, Hostel and Borderland couldn’t be more different.
Strong performances by all the leads helped to keep my eyes on the screen, even when the pace did slow down a bit too much in the middle. Personally it worked all right for me to build these characters into people you actually could care about, something far too rare in horror movies these days.
The washed-out, near overexposed look of Borderland aided in its feeling of otherness as well; you always felt slightly removed from the reality these characters were inhabiting though you can see that it’s all the modern world. I think this was done to convey the peculiarity of border towns, where there is no real law to speak of and, as a copy tells Ulises at one point, nothing is remembered for too long.
I dug Borderland a lot and am glad it got its chance on the big screen. It’s not as gory as some have said, but it is smart with realistic characters and a sure sense of the kind of movie it’s trying to be.
4 out of 5
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