Calgary Herald

Chaos, modernism make strange bedfellows

Borgman bends horror genre convention­s


Horror is far more unsettling when it’s surrounded by teak furniture. Chaos and mid-century modernism make uncomforta­ble bedfellows, it seems, which is one of the bigger reasons why Borgman is so wonderfull­y creepy.

A thriller that found love at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the prestigiou­s Palme d’Or, Borgman has the surreal feel of a fairy tale from the moment it begins in an ordinary looking town somewhere in the Netherland­s.

One man sharpens an iron rod. Another man picks up a shotgun. And then we see the priest don his collar and head out the door. All three band together and charge into the woods with unmistakab­le but silent purpose.

Then we see Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) lying asleep. He hears the hounds and starts to scramble. As he moves we realize he’s in a spider hole of some kind. He even has a periscope made from PVC pipes that lets him see the priest approach.

The iron rod pierces through the roof of his hiding place, and soon the priest is swinging an axe through the whole cache. Borgman doesn’t seem to have many friends, but before he flees through a secret cave, the bearded freak makes a call on his cellphone.

Now, bearded men living in holes and hunted by priests feels familiar enough to run with as a viewer, but by putting a piece of modern cellular technology in the drifter’s hands, director Alex van Warmerdam pushes his genre film to the edge of the known frame.

Slowly but surely squeezing out expectatio­n with the help of a surreal edge, van Warmerdam tells a different type of home in- vasion story.

Borgman knocks first. And when he gets the cold shoulder from the man on the other side of the architectu­ral door that sits flush on the perfectly poured jamb of the concrete cube he calls home, he doesn’t get violent.

Borgman uses his oily charms to get what he wants because he’s the classic interloper. Everything about him reeks of brimstone and sulphur. He feels ancient. He looks ancient. But he carries that cellphone and makes regular calls, ensuring he maintains an air of mystery and creepy villainy for the duration.

Van Warmerdam doesn’t disappoint. The movie grows increasing­ly dark, despite the production design that feels plucked from an Ikea catalogue, making for an emotionall­y halting voyage that finally pulls you in — even if you resisted for the first half out of sheer fatigue.

Nobody wants to watch a nice family fall prey to an evil visitor. Even a not-so-nice family deserves to be saved from Hell’s minions, so Borgman will present challenges to any viewer who likes happy endings and villains punished for their sins.

This movie finds its strongest dramatic moments and best visuals when it’s sinking to the bottom of the scum-covered pond we call reality.

 ?? EyeSteelFi­lm ?? Alex van Warmerdam’s psychologi­cal thriller Borgman pushes the genre film to the edge of the known frame.
EyeSteelFi­lm Alex van Warmerdam’s psychologi­cal thriller Borgman pushes the genre film to the edge of the known frame.

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