Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Borderland (2007, directed by Zev Berman)

I'm not sure who Zev Berman is, but he stole my idea. Five or so years ago, maybe a little more, I read a story about a town in Mexico called Matamoros. It was a news article about a group of kids visiting a Texas town near the border for spring break. They decide to take a trip across the border to Mexico and, like hundreds of thousands of kids before them, look for an even more decadent experience. Well, one of them disappeared. In the months that followed, as Americans of different varieties, F.B.I etc. get involved it eventually comes out that this missing American got snapped up by a drug dealing, human sacrificing cult. Corruption, on a terrifying level was also at work, because everyone within tens of miles of the groups headquarters was terrified of ending up under the knife, machete, what have you. Seriously. I'm really not joking. It did happen.

I read that article all those years back and immediately started my own screenplay. I never finished that screenplay, so I'm not saying Zev Berman stole my actual screenplay, I'm not even actually saying the guy stole my idea. This has all been a round about way of telling you that the essential facts of this story are actually true.And that I kicked myself for not finishing the screenplay.

Borderland is the dramatization of that story. Because of the fact that this film was picked up by the After Dark Horrorfest, and in the three years or so it's existed, After Dark has only really picked up two or three good films, I really had very low expectations. If you're not familiar, After Dark is a traveling film festival, essentially a distribution banner for horror films. Each year, they choose eight films which haven't been picked up by anyone else, get them into limited distribution in theaters and then into the DVD/Blu Ray market. It's been at least three years so far, and they really have only gotten their hands on two or three films which could claw their way to being called decent and not horribly, laughably bad. It's become kind of like seeing Micheal Pare' is starring in a movie. Borderland has helped to convince me I should still give these films a shot, in case one of the future releases is this good.

It's relatively obvious Borderland was made with the kind of money most Hollywood films spend in food services. It becomes another example in a long list of those which prove Hollywood, really doesn't have a very good handle on what to do with their money, because we've probably seen a few hundred thousand films trying to do what Borderland does, with twice or three times as much money, and fail. It plays well, throughout, and it manages to create and keep building on a sense of urgency that drives the narrative forward, and provides a few small surprises along the way. It also has the kind of tension and suspense which  many of it's big budget brethren just can't nail down very well. It's a very well done film.

Borderlands is a graphic film, with some scenes of relatively extreme violence. The interesting thing about the film, and the violence in it, is the degree of fetishism it actually contains. One of the complaints levied against horror films for a long time has been that the violence is too fetishistic and that makes it too appealing. This, actually, makes it even less appealing. This is tough and ugly, as it should be. Especially considering the "true to life" nature of the subject matter, this is something I think works in the film's favor.

Unfortunately, IMDB doesn't have anything listed as being directed by Zev Berman after this film. He managed to put together a good small budget film, and attract some decent talent. Sean Astin turns up in the middle of the film in a role you would never have imagined, but that he seems absolutely perfectly fit for. It's not a huge part, but what is there, he does a really good job with. The same can be said for Rider Strong, formerly of Boy Meets World fame, and will be familiar to horror fans from Cabin Fever. The other two  male leads don't seem to have been in anything I recognize or have seen, and they do a decent job. The real find here is in Martha Higareda  who is great as Valeria, a bar tender the trio meet their first night in old Mexico. It's a good performance from someone unknown to American audiences. She's also a classically elegant beauty that combined with this performance is more than you often find in the "it girl", who ever it happens to be this week.

In short, Borderlands was definitely worth seeing. I caught it through Fearnet on demand on our Verizon Fios, and I liked it enough that I'll probably pick a copy up at some point in the near future. Best Buy apparently sells it for $9.99 on DVD, which I think is a good value for this film.

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