Dir: Zev Berman. US. 2007. 104mins.
A solidly professional exercise in the horror/thriller genre, Borderland will not disappoint those that like their suspense and gore laid on in equal measure, and nice and thick. Still, it doesn't rise significantly above other examples of the genre, and a commercial release in the US by LionsGate Films may feel a bit of a gamble to some.
However, attractive (if relatively unknown) leads, a serviceable script that seldom drags, excellent lighting effects and a general crispness in the efficient delivery of blood and guts should ensure strong and steady returns from the DVD market. Television prospects around the world also look favorable.
Borderland is Berman's second feature. His first, Briar Patch (known as Plain Dirty on the DVD release) came out in 2002 and seems to have left little trace, except perhaps among the cognoscenti.
The new film, based loosely on a real kidnapping that occurred near the Texas-Mexico border in 1989, concerns three cocky young gringos who head south of the border for sex, drugs, and general dissipation.
Alas, one of their number, the inexperienced Phil (Strong), is kidnapped by a drug cartel which also dabbles in the occult and which aims to use this soft, feckless American in a ritual sacrifice.
After hooking up with a Mexican girl, Valeria (Higareda), his buddies, the idealistic Ed (Presley) and the hothead Henry (Muxworthy), along with a police officer with his own private grudge against the bad guys, set out to rescue poor Phil before he's done in.
Massive quantities of blood are released by means of hacking machetes (the rule seems to be never shoot when you can chop), and general mayhem ensues.
Director Berman dabbles in some mystical spirituality-lite, but its presence is ruthlessly put in the service of the chills and gore.
The script is somewhat schematic - all the characters are never more than clear-cut types who deliver predictable dialogue - but this may be a plus in a genre film of this sort. Ultimately, all the stops are let out and a bevy of classic scary moments, largely achieved through editing, are indulged to the full, with lots of limbs being chopped off, blood being lustily quaffed, and heads appearing in sacks.
At the very end, Berman makes a stab at a kind of 'we are all savages underneath' theme, but, probably appropriately, it's overwhelmed by the preponderance of satisfied, blood-smeared faces on the screen.
Audiences will recognise a particular sadistic member of the cult, Randall, as Sean Astin, who played one of Frodo's Hobbit friends in The Lord Of The Rings films. Otherwise, the cast will be largely unknown, but all are competent. Santillon (Beto Cuevas) is appropriately over-the-top as the cult leader whom all worship.
Influences like David Lynch and David Fincher show up as early as the credits, and generally work to enhance the effectiveness. In fact, the chiaroscuro lighting, the inventive cinematography, and the sound engineering are the high points of the film, and Berman knows how to jumble the aural and visual tracks in intriguing ways.
Other visual effects that are more predictable come when the young men get stoned, and once again we learn how boring someone else's head trip can be.
Lions Gate Films