November 15, 2007

Movie Review: Borderland

After Dark Films, founded by Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons and An American Haunting), is making a splash in the low-budget horror scene. In 2006 the After Dark Horror Fest arrived, spotlighting 8 films that would have otherwise been relegated to the straight to video market where they would most likely be ignored. This festival of sorts offered an opportunity for horror fans to get a look at these films on the big screen, as well as give the filmmakers some more exposure. This year, the second for the festival, I was able to take in five of the features. Are all of them great? No, but they all have something to offer, something outside of the mainstream glut of remakes and imports. One of these films is Borderland.

The setting is Texas, a party is raging on a beach and in the midst of it all a pair of friends, Henry and Phil, are wondering where a third, Ed, is. The next morning, they find Ed sitting on the sands on the far side of the beach. The trio are facing their last days together, their last hurrah before heading off to their respective graduate schools. So, what are three buddies in Texas to do? Head for the border for some booze, drugs, and sex. And go they do, driving across the line into Mexico for some unadulterated, unregulated fun. Never in a million years could they have suspected what lay ahead of them, what fate would hold, and what horrors they would encounter.

One day will tripping with some girls on mushrooms at a carnival Phil wins a giant teddy bear that he wishes to give to the teenage prostitute that had been chosen earlier to relieve young Phil from his virginity. It was an act that had not taken place since he found out she was a mother and developed some fast feelings for the young woman. This would prove to be the trigger effect that would set in motiont he events leading them into the mouth of a real world hell.

That hell would be a gang of drug traffickers that practice palo mayombe, black magic used to communicate with the dead and grant them powers. This group just happened to be on the lookout for an American, for their fear at the prospect of death was a powerful ingredient and proved to be more intense than the locals. Phil, walking along the streets, alone, at night, and high, was just to enticing an opportunity to pass up. He is taken and held captive until the time is right.

The next morning when Henry and Ed realize their young friend never returned, set out to find him. First they do the obvious first step and go to the police. Now, if movies teach us nothing it is that the Mexican police are ineffective against the gangs and crime bosses of the town. With no police activity Henry and Ed turn to a couple of friendly locals to investigate their friend's disappearance. These friends include Ulisses, a former police officer whose partner was murdered by these same drug traffickers who have abducted Phil.

This is a low budget gem, a cautionary tale wrapped in some bloody disturbing trappings. There was a very strong sense of reality in this film. Yes, some dialogue is bad, and some of the sequences are a touch rushed, but the performances sell it. You will believe what is happening, and you will feel a disturbance in the pit of your stomach. This may be a horror film, but it might as well be called a crime film. Sure, the bad guys are messing with the occult and there are some Hostel-like activities being engaged in, but there is a grittiness that will likely make you think twice before heading for that border town for some unregulated entertainment.

Borderland as an idea for a film has an interesting genesis. The seed was planted when writer/director Zev Berman crossed paths with the very real investigation of a college student's disappearance. In 1989, 21-year-old Mark Kilroy disappeared while partying in Mexico. At the same time Berman and some friends were in the vicinity and crossed paths with the Mexican Police who were looking for the young man. The van Berman was traveling in had been decorated with voodoo-esque trinkets and the police thought they may be involved. The real crime turned out to be rather gruesome when Kilroy's body was found, dumped with a number of other bodies. The crime syndicate were sacrificing people in an effor tot protect their operation. So, while this tale may seem far-fetched, it is not all that far removed from reality.

Bottomline. It is not perfect, but it is a strong movie. It has frightening implications and definitely puts thoughts in one's head. Zev Berman has crafted an scary tale which has very personal roots. Like many of the film's at this year's Horror Fest is borderline horror at best, but that does not take away the frightening reality behind this story.



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