Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Enter Mister Borgman

This past month has made a believer out of me: if the Moon can control the tides, who knows what effects the other planets can have on this, that and the other thing — and I am all too happy to blame this rotten past month, and all of the ways in which it has failed me and I have failed myself on the combined retrograde of both Mercury and Pluto. 

It’s been a vampire month. It’s been bed enough that I’d have been better off to just crawl under a rock and pull it in after me; as it is, the best time I’ve spent during these weeks has been in front of the telly.

To call the Dutch film Borgman a “vampire movie” would be to set up unreasonable expectations in prospective viewers. There are no fangs, no bloodsucking, no capes, none of the Hollywood tropes that people expect when they hear the word. Indeed, going into Borgman without knowing anything, it would be reasonable to believe, at first, that you were watching a plain psychological thriller about an oddly charismatic type worming his way into a well-to-do Dutch family; but that wouldn’t explain some of the oddnesses that run throughout the movie… and most of the negative reviews (in the minority) that I’ve seen about the picture seemed to have been written by people who failed to make the connection, who saw these oddities as just being weird for the sake of being weird.

But once you have accepted the fact that Borgman is all about a strain of vampirism that we have not seen on the screen before, it all makes perfect, horrible sense. As the movie opens, the titular character — a wildly hairy yet fascinating hermit-type played by Jan Bijvoet (the resemblance to Charles Manson is no doubt intentional) — is being hunted by a priest with dogs and stakes. His lair is concealed in the forest, underground, with escape tunnels dug under the roots of trees. None of this is explained; nor is anything explained that follows, including the silent dogs that let themselves into people’s houses at night, or the mysterious scars on the backs of Borgman and his “family” of murderers. That Borgman possesses some overt supernatural ability is expressly stated: sitting nude astride a sleeping woman, he affects her dreams with the power of his thought. He moves silently, swiftly, and unseen when he wishes it. And yet when the time comes for murder, Borgman’s crew use altogether conventional methods. 

Its most horrifying moments occur in the plain light of day, under dreamily sunny skies. Few words are spoken. By the time we realize that Borgman is not psychological suspense, but in fact a full-on Horror Movie, it’s too late: we are in the vampire’s spell right along with the doomed family. Gradually, we realize that he is not interested in the adults, but only working through them to get at the children of the house. Fresh blood is what his family seeks. The final scenes play out in almost complete silence, and are as quietly chilling as anything you will have ever seen onscreen.

As such I think it’s the best modern horror movie in many a moon; destined, if it can find its audience, to become a classic of the genre. It has both the sense of cunning playfulness and the visual restraint that all really good horror movies must have (its single most graphic moment occurs in a dream); and it presents a very old monster in a strikingly fresh and modern way; Borgman himself has the weight of a Great Cult Figure in the making.

Borgman is unrated in this country, but would probably be a soft R or a strong PG-13. It has some mild sexuality, more than one usage of the word “fuck,” some intense and unnerving scenes, and one very brief flash of bloody violence.

— Freder.

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