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24
Aug

Omohide poro poro


Omohide poro poro (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Only Yesterday,” written and directed by Isao Takahata, is, I think, about life itself, how one chooses to live one’s life, and how it is perfectly all right to take one’s time to figure out how to live that life. It is an animated film that is beautifully written and crafted, so unwilling to sacrifice even an ounce of complexity just so the viewer can understand how a character is feeling or thinking. It is a piece of work that transcends genre. It will, or should, stand the test of time because it captures a specific human story and yet it is also about everyone.

Taeko (voiced by Miki Imai) is a twenty-seven-year-old unmarried woman in the 1980s who decides to take two weeks off from her job in Tokyo to go to a farm in Yamagata and help pick safflowers. On her way to the countryside, she cannot help but think about her ten-year-old self in 1966—the year The Beatles became popular in Japan—and the many memories that helped to shape her as a person. Like many of us when we were ten, her life was defined by school, her peers, and family.

The picture takes its time to communicate specific expressions. Unafraid to employ extended pauses so we are able to appreciate the most minute emotions and possible thoughts gracing across characters’ faces, including their body language, when silence is eventually broken and the images start moving once again, we have an understanding and an appreciation of who they are as people, including the roles they play, at that particular time. Furthermore, be aware of how negative space is employed to further highlight what the ten-year-old is going through and why certain experiences made such lasting impressions.

One of the many examples involves a memory in which fifth grader Taeko throws a tantrum because her father decides she will not be getting a new purse. On their way out the door to go to a Chinese restaurant, her father’s patience runs out when Taeko steps outside the house by accident without wearing shoes. Taeko is then slapped across the face. From the awkward dinner scene the night before when the topic of buying new things is broached to the moment when the child is struck, notice how the serene tone is slowly heated up to a boil. The conflict appears superficial, but great tension is generated by forcing us to note details of facial expressions by means of calculated pauses and long silences.

The material is not without a sense of humor. To me, having had experience teaching children a range of subjects, the funniest scene is when Taeko’s impatient elder sister, Yaeko (Yuki Minowa) is forced to tutor her on how to divide fractions. Yaeko knows how to do the math… but how to apply it in the real world escapes her. It is highly amusing, and surprising, because Taeko, as it turns out, has an understanding of the latter but not the former. It is a beautiful scene because it communicates to the viewer that even though Taeko and Yaeko do not always get along, they, in a way, complement each other—they really are sisters.

Another admirable quality is the film’s honesty. It is willing to take on subjects considered to be too risqué, especially in an animated picture, like puberty and menstruation. It effectively uses situational humor to communicate the confusion, mortification, and curiosity many girls feel at that age. I commend the writing and direction for not reducing normal bodily functions and treating them as something disgusting. Compare this approach to western coming-of-age comedies. Either the topic is avoided altogether or it is treated with revulsion or fear.

Based on the manga by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, “Omoide poro poro” navigates through seemingly simple memories and allows us to extract the most complicated emotions, thoughts, and implications from them. Look at how it captures the terrain of being ten and learning that someone you like just might like you back, too. And I have not even gone over Adult Taeko’s experiences in the farm and the many details of harvesting and processing safflower. There are countless discoveries to be made here. It made my life that much richer.

23
Aug

Sunlight Jr.


Sunlight Jr. (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

“Sunlight Jr.,” written and directed by Laurie Collyer, is a bare bones picture in that is a but peek into a life of a couple with barely enough money to get by. There is no beginning or end, not even a standard parabolic dramatic path typically found in works of fiction. On some level, I admired it. Still, I am not sure as to who the picture is intended for.

It shows poverty in a realistic way. Most might ask why Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are not shown to be more practical especially since they are continually pushed to desperate financial situations. For instance, although Richie has lost the use of his legs, why is he not able to to get a job? I offer superficial answers. First, he is an alcoholic. Second, he has not yet come to terms with his handicap. Third, I believe that a part of it involves depression—not one we always see represented in the movies but the kind that exists in the real word, the kind of depression that is too common yet not always recognized.

Though Dillon and Watts are capable of delivering the necessary gravity to create believable characters, their performances are not completely transformative. Their clothes appear to look as though they have been washed too many times and their hair could use a bit of clean-up but I consistently saw movie stars doing their job. As a result, I was unable to invest emotionally in the characters. We recognize Richie and Melissa’s plight but we do not feel like we are ever in their shoes.

Perhaps the picture might have had more of an impact if the lead characters were played by unfamiliar faces. I am talking about ordinary faces, plain statures, and body types that may not be considered appealing or attractive. The film is supposed to be rooted in realism. And yet when I walk into a convenience store, I never see anyone who look like Watts behind the counter. I may see someone who looks like Paul Giamatti or DJ Qualls. I don’t mean to be insulting to these performers. What I mean to say is that if the material wishes to get down and dirty, every element must fit or else it may come across as phony at times.

One of the implicit questions asked is whether love is enough to withstand the winds of adversity. I enjoyed that it offers conflicting answers. One of the most common words used to describe the film is “depressing.” I don’t think that it is. At least not really. Yes, what the couple goes through is tough. We watch their every day battles—whether it be about work, unspoken disappointments between the couples, things that must be sacrificed. But if one looks closely, there is always a silver lining.

22
Aug

The Other Side of the Door


Other Side of the Door, The (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Modern supernatural horror movies verge on comedy these days because many of the visuals end up looking so computerized, so fake, so cheap-looking, we are immediately taken out of what could be terrifying experiences. For a while, “The Other Side of the Door,” written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, shows signs of becoming a solid horror flick because the premise genuinely intrigues but soon it proves to be cursed just like its contemporaries. When black eyes, veiny skin, and green leaves turning brown in mere seconds are shown, cue the eye-rolling.

In deep mourning and feeling crippling guilt due to her young son’s death, Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) takes a whole bottle of pills and goes to sleep. Her husband (Jeremy Sisto) gets to her just in time, calls for help, and saves her life. Their housekeeper, Piki (Suchitra Pillai), feels she can help Maria to move on and so she suggests that the mother take the train to her village, walk deep in the woods, enter a temple, and lock herself inside throughout the night—a place where Piki’s people believe that the line between life and death is so thin, the living and the dead are able to communicate with one another.

Perhaps if Maria had a chance to say goodbye to her son, she could continue to live her life. However, Piki warns Maria that no matter what happens, once the communication has started, the door must not be opened until sunrise.

The foreign setting contributes significantly to the spooky atmosphere and continuously increasing tension. The story takes place in India and there is an authentic look and feel to the casting, the extras, the clothes, the outdoor markets, and the establishing mythos. When Piki talks about what her culture believes in and what rules must be followed, the camera focuses on the performer’s face indicating that we must hang onto her every word and intonation. At one point or another, she is our compass.

There is only one flashback and it is utilized effectively. Surprisingly emotional, it points to the roots of why Maria blames herself for Oliver’s death. It is quite uncommon in horror pictures to show such an emotionally charged, human scene in which just about everyone are likely able to empathize with those involved. It reminds us that superior horror flicks tend to have something personal at stake for their characters. It is not just about the anticipation, the jump scares, and the screaming.

Less impressive are typical tropes where an animal looks solemnly into the shadows as it detects an unseen malevolent presence, something creepy happening on a dark, rainy night, and shocking encounters being reduced to mere nightmares. These elements are unnecessary, painfully pedestrian, some might say insulting; it might have been more effective if Maria were written almost as an investigator—rerouting her grief into progressive action like doing her own research to try to figure out how she could save herself, husband, and her daughter from her own mistake. Alas, that is not how the movie was written. It settles for something far less when it could have been a horror picture to notice and remember.

Directed by Johannes Roberts, “The Other Side of the Door,” a British-Indian film, made me wonder if more American horror movies were set and actually shot in other countries. Perhaps it would cure us from being stuck in telling the same old stories about haunted houses, serial killers, and the like. Not to mention the same look and feel from the ones we usually get. Every country in the world has their own stories. Imagine if they could inspire us to put our spin on their narratives and create something original.

20
Aug

Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains


Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

In October 13, 1972, a plane, carrying forty-five people, traveling from Uruguay to Chile crashed in the Andes. Sixteen died from the impact and those who lived waited at the crash site to be rescued. Several days passed but no rescue team arrived. Helicopters would pass above but they were not seen. After several weeks, suspecting that the outside world had given up the search, the remaining survivors took it upon themselves to find a person or a group people that could help lead to their rescue.

What makes “Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains,” directed by Gonzalo Arijón’s, quite worthwhile are the interviews with the survivors, back then in their early- to mid-twenties and now in their fifties. Hearing what they had gone through first-hand allows us to feel the horror and desperation of their ordeal. Their story, however, is weakened by the reenactments. Such are often in slow motion, blurry, and at times coming across disingenuous. With such an incredible human story, any form of imitation feels cheap.

Early in the film, a survivor expresses a feeling that perhaps there was a dark force that intended to put them together. Most of the passengers were young, privileged student-athletes attending Catholic school. He gives the impression that maybe it was a trial of their faith. One of the biggest problems they had to face eventually was the lack of food. They had to result to eating the flesh of their dead for survival.

Frank Marshall’s “Alive” was one of the first American films I remember watching as a child. Each time it aired on HBO, I just had to watch it. Though I did not understand the language, I was fascinated with the idea of human beings eating the dead—their friends, family, acquaintances—to save themselves from starvation. Through the years, I knew that the film did the story justice because not once did I feel scared or disgusted with what the characters had to do—what many consider to be taboo. I saw the situation through a philosophical and spiritual lens.

The director makes a good decision to give the topic of cannibalism enough time to be acknowledged and discussed but it moves on from it. While interesting and important, it remains one of the many experiences that the survivors had gone through. Others include removing corpses from the plane and assigning them a spot, considering how food should be rationed and who was in charge, and deciding the best time to send someone to find help because people from the outside world figured they were dead.

Reenactments are unnecessary. Since the men are in front of the camera, their faces, words, and emotions tell it all. I would rather have seen more photographs taken before, during, and after the ordeal. Real footages after their rescue make a big impact, too. We get a glimpse at some of their bodies after they were interviewed by reporters and on the process of being taken to get medical attention. With no proper nourishment for over two months, subsisting on one piece of square chocolate and one cap of liquor, it makes sense—and yet it remains shocking—that they had lost so much body weight.

In the summer of 2006, a few survivors, their children, and grandchildren visit the crash site. These are lodged in between interviews and recollections. There is a sadness that commemorates those who did not make it through. And with those who did, there is a sense of relief and appreciation for a second chance at life.

19
Aug

R.I.P.D.


R.I.P.D. (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a former cop, is dead, finds himself sitting in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Rest in Peace Department stationed just above Boston, and faces a decision: to join the department and hunt Deados, spirits that somehow managed to escape Final Judgment, back on Earth or to embrace the possibility of being sent to hell. Nick chooses the former and he is paired with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an older gentleman who died during the Old West. Though the new duo are off to a rocky start, their bickering is set aside when they discover strange goings-on involving Deados and chunks of gold.

“R.I.P.D.,” written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, offers nothing but special and visual effects. It lacks the imagination, wit, and comic timing that made the likes of Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” and Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black” so rousing and entertaining. Thirty minutes in, one realizes that the film is unable to move on from the first act. One waits for something—anything—to happen. It remains stagnant even way past the one hour mark and it turns into a great struggle to sit through.

Part of the problem is Roy and Nick’s partnership. Though the actors perform their parts with appropriate verve, the writers fail to turn the characters into people with substance. There are only two sides to their interactions: they get into shallow disagreements—which is supposed to be funny, maybe in an alternate universe—or they are on the same page, temporarily, while being in the same room as a Deado. Because their relationship is only two-sided, it gets predictable real quick and one gets no enjoyment watching them.

More painful are the scenes in which Roy and Nick are forced to connect with one another, supposedly in a meaningful way. I did not buy it for a second. It is easy to see through the script and the lack of effort put into it. Why bother to insert such a phony scene when it further cheapens an already weak material? Did it not once occur to the filmmakers that it wasn’t working, that it was better off to leave the sentimentality out the door? Maybe they felt the picture needed to hit the ninety-minute mark.

The monsters are not interesting. All of them are made out to be ugly, bad, and they do nothing other than to function to as figures to be shot at. There are a few chase sequences in the streets of Boston and one does not need spectacles to see through the obvious CGI. There is simply too much thrown on screen for us to be able to appreciate any level of artistry put into the work. I looked up the budget of the film and, to my surprise, it is over one hundred million dollars. This is the best they can come up with?

Directed by Robert Schwentke, “R.I.P.D.” is bottom-of-the-barrel fluff. I found no magic, inspiration, or delight out of it. Sci-fi action-fantasies should be more thrilling. In the least, it should feel alive—vibrant—even if the story involves the dead.

18
Aug

L’ours


Ours, L’ (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

While digging a hole in front of a tree in search for food, a rockslide occurs and kills an adult bear. Its young now motherless and without protection, the cub roams the mountains and finds a male grizzly. Though their relationship starts off rocky, the grizzly and the orphan eventually get along. However, what they have is threatened when two determined hunters (Tchéky Karyo, Jack Wallace) show up and wish to add the grizzly to their collection.

“L’ours,” also known as “The Bear,” employs minimalism in dialogue and score to underline the experience of bears and hunters in the wild. Although it works for the most part, it wavers in focus and moves away from the reality it so lovingly creates when human-like characteristics are given to the cub just for the sake of having cheap “Aww!“ moments.

The first part of the film is nothing short of impressive. One can easily mistaken the film for a documentary. Without dialogue, a contrast is established between human and non-human animal through images and sounds. When the bear is on screen, emphasis is placed on the growls and grunts of the cub, the tapping of its feet on the grass as it attempts to catch an energetic frog, and the singing of the crickets within the surrounding area. When the camera turns its attention on humans, the crackling of the fire breaks the silence and there is metallic clinging as weapons are prepared for the next day’s kill.

One of its themes involves the fragility of humans and the durability of non-human animals. A bear is hit with a bullet and it is able to run away. A horse is attacked and it, too, manages to escape. Dogs are almost ripped to shreds but they are able to run across great distances and return to their owners. A person, however, twists his foot on a rocky terrain and his confidence to survive in the wilderness wanes suddenly.

Memorable images are abound. When the cub is washed downriver, there is an increasing level of tension the longer it stays in the water. With its short arms and lack of strength against the current, we wonder if it will get rescued. At one point, the cub gets a taste of condensed milk and it seems unable to get enough of it. And then there is the chase between the cub we have grown to care for and a mountain lion. Naturally, there is blood during the confrontation.

Less impressive—verging on annoying—is when the cub sleeps and the picture cuts to a dream sequence. Even if animals dream, we do not know for sure at this point in time if they dream like humans do. When it enters a dream, I saw a person dreaming, not an animal. This is only one of about half a dozen examples of anthropomorphism utilized in the film. They are distracting and they take away some of the mystery and magic from the experience.

Adapted from a novel by James Oliver Curwood and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, it must not be easy making a movie like “L’ours.” To capture the animals doing exactly what they are supposed to do, it must require a lot of patience and training from the filmmakers and technicians. But it offers more than effort. Many of the imagery are really quite stunning and they have to be seen to be believed.

16
Aug

Shotgun Stories


Shotgun Stories (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Shotgun Stories” has ample opportunities to have turned into a standard revenge-thriller considering the story revolves around a blood feud between two families. Instead, it surprises by abstaining from violent turn of events on a consistent basis and we are the more enthralled as the threat of violence escalates to an inevitable boiling point.

Writer-director Jeff Nichols exercises a level of control that great directors possess. Here, there is a theme involving the futility of vengeance and just about every scene supports what the picture is about rather than what we expect it to be as audiences who have grown accustomed to familiar parabolas and beats of mainstream revenge pictures. It inspires because engaged and patient viewers are likely to feel off-balance from well-timed misdirects.

Images provide specific, beautiful details. It is set in rural Arkansas and so there are numerous shots of wide open spaces where grass whistle and tree branches sway along the wind. But more interesting are the dilapidated buildings, simple houses, and ordinary faces. We get a real sense that we are watching actual people who know only one way to live. Because it captures a specific environment with honesty and care, the lifestyles presented on screen command a certain vibrancy.

The writing offers deep humanity and intelligence. Notice that the three siblings in the center of the picture have no actual names—they are known to us and to each other as Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon), and Kid (Barlow Jacobs). We learn their father abandoned them many years ago and started a family with another woman in the same community. But their four children have names. Meanwhile, Son, Boy, and Kid’s mother raised them to hate their father and his new family.

It is interesting that although we experience the story from the perspective of the boys—now men—that have been left behind, the material does an incredible job in getting us to see, often in small and subtle ways, that the two men and two boys with names have lives, too. Both sides share animosity toward one another and they have their own legitimate reasons.

About halfway through the picture, I wondered if the film would have been as effective thematically if we had seen any scene which showed how the unnamed males were raised either by their mother or father, or both. A more standard, less controlled writing would likely have included such a scene—or worse, flashbacks. Refraining from having such scenes is the correct choice because it allows us to wonder and consider but remain focused on the current feud that unfolds.

Every pore of “Shotgun Stories” reeks of realism and that is what makes it compelling. Shannon stands out as the eldest unnamed brother. When those he loves are threatened, take a look in those eyes. You can almost feel the character weighing disparate routes of action and planning the details of his next move. Or maybe those eyes simply reflect our own instincts.

15
Aug

They’re Watching


They’re Watching (2016)
★ / ★★★★

The worst horror-comedies are the ones in which the events yet to transpire can already be seen from a mile a way. “They’re Watching,” written and directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright, belongs in such a trash heap. To add insult to injury, the film is neither scary nor funny, just full of irritating characters with nothing interesting or worthy of note to say or do. This is a critical mistake because we must endure the horrible company of this television crew until, during the last fifteen minutes, one by one they meet their grisly demise.

The plot revolves around a crew attempting to put together an episode of “House Hunters Global” in a remote village in Eastern Europe. The subject is Becky (Brigid Brannagh), a woman from Los Angeles who moved to a dilapidated home with her boyfriend six months prior. Since then, a lot of work has been put into the house and is now unrecognizable from the disrepair featured on a previous episode. Soon, however, based on their interactions with the locals, the TV crew begin to feel as though every move they make is being watched. It is common knowledge that in the past, villagers burned witches at the stake.

Too much effort is put into making the three central characters likable that the material neglects to create an increasingly strange, eerie, and creepy vibe. Sarah (Mia Faith) is new to the business and her inexperience shows by speaking out of turn during interviews; Alex (Kris Lemche) is so egocentric that he thinks an absence of filter between his brain and mouth is actually charming; and Greg (David Alpay) is supposed to be the most mysterious because he is the most silent and least obnoxious. But the writer-directors fail to ask: Why are these three the conduit to the story when none of them really takes their careers seriously. Because if they don’t care, we don’t either.

I enjoyed the simple but convincing look of the locals and some of the places we visit, particularly the church where Sarah and Greg sneak a camera inside after they have been warned that no recording of any type is allowed. The church has a creepy feeling about it—minimal lights, almost claustrophobic, the details found on walls imply that it is a very old building with plenty of history. But when three corpses are revealed eventually, the gathering turning out to be funeral, it is surely time to leave. But Sarah and Greg’s luck has run out.

There are so many ways to make a town with a history of murder and witchcraft interesting, but the material consistently squanders every opportunity to take off. Instead, we are presented a tired potential romance between Sarah and Greg—a mistake because the performers share no sexual chemistry. I found it awkward when they touch or kiss because it appears as though the actors don’t even want to get that close. If they don’t believe it, we don’t believe it. The writer-directors ought to have noticed this weakness from behind the lens. The responsible thing to do would have written around the potential romance and perhaps bulked up the mystery and intrigue. Is there not a library in that village so Greg, Alex, and Sarah could do some research?

I have not even started on the laughable final ten minutes. The visual effects are so brazen—brazenly bad—that it almost makes one consider whether it is supposed to be a parody. Almost. Instead, one gets a sneaky feeling that Lender and Wright did not have the imagination or inspiration to write something creative and so, like other filmmakers devoid of ideas, they relied on visual effects to create a semblance of, well, anything other than cutting to black. But I would preferred a black screen that signaled the picture being over because then it would have at least spared everyone fifteen valuable minutes.

14
Aug

Black Sea


Black Sea (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Robinson (Jude Law) is let go from his job despite having been with the company for more than a decade. Hoping to provide for his young son, Robinson accepts a job from a mysterious financial backer which involves searching for a German U-boat located ninety meters from the surface of the Black Sea, supposedly containing two tons of gold—worth at least eighty million dollars. Robinson’s condition: Half of the men in the submarine will be British and the other half Russian. Each one gets equal pay after the backer gets his share.

Written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Kevin Macdonald, “Black Sea” starts off promisingly because it is able to lay out its protagonist’s motivation leading up to his decision to take on a near-impossible task. However, once the characters are inside the submarine, the mystery and intrigue dissipate. Instead, there is a lot of arguing between the British and the Russians—which is not compelling because someone is either wrong or right. There is little gray and so the picture is reduced to a bore.

We learn close to nothing about the men in the submarine. Out of them all, I could name up to about three, if that, because the screenplay never gives each one a chance to say or do something important. I was reduced to assigning them names like “The One with the Beard” or “The Corpulent Russian Guy Who Grunts.” Although the material tries to tell a human story, especially when it tries to introduce the idea that the rich tend to prey upon the poor, the attempt is fleeting, marginal, and weak. The drama is not there to keep the film tense or at least superficially interesting.

The moments of danger lack a sense of urgency. Eventually, three characters end up in the dark waters with cliffs separating life and death. It is strange to watch because the camera seems stuck on having the camera about two to three feet away from the characters—five feet at most. Thus, we do not really get a sense of the danger and how insignificant the men are compared to the utter darkness surrounding them. The lack of perspective hinders the picture from becoming suspenseful or thrilling.

Although Law delivers a pretty good performance, so versatile when delivering strength and despair, the writing is so shallow and transparent that we can easily tell who will die or be killed next about two or three scenes prior to the fact. As a result, we go through the by-the-numbers dialogue and passively wait for an event that we know is going to happen soon. One gets the impression that this is a nervous filmmaker’s first-time foray into helming a dramatic suspense-thriller—not at all the case because this picture is from a filmmaker who made “Touching the Void” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

“Black Sea” has very few redeeming qualities and so it is not worth sitting through two hours. The director’s cut of the excellent “Das Boot,” also taking place in a confined space, is three hours and thirty minutes long and that picture feels short compared to this one. Why? Because “Das Boot” commands what “Black Sea” lacks: a genuine sense of claustrophobia because every piece of item within the vessel looks and feels real, fascinating characters who are forced to make complicated choices, and their actions have such large rippling effects that we are exhausted—in a good way—by the trials they go through. My advice: Discover or revisit “Das Boot” instead.

12
Aug

Borgman


Borgman (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Hunted by a priest and two men, Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) escapes from his underground home and ends up knocking on a wealthy family’s door. He asks if it would be possible for him to take a bath but he is turned down without a moment’s thought. Insisting that he be let inside, Richard (Jeroen Perceval) goes on a violent rampage and almost beats the stranger to death. Guilt-ridden due to her husband’s behavior, Marina (Hadewych Minis) allows Borgman to take refuge in their summerhouse until he recovers. Soon, however, the vagabond is in the children’s room and telling a captivating lore.

Written and directed by Alex van Warmerdam, “Borgman” is supposed to be a mystery-thriller with comedic elements but the experience of sitting through it comes pretty close to watching paint dry. No tension is injected into the veins of its story and so even though bizarre occurrences unfold with a rhythmic pace, I caught myself feeling passive toward the charade. I felt nothing toward the violence and deaths and even less when would-be ironic touches migrate front and center.

Part of the problem is a lack of an identifiable and sympathetic character. The husband and wife are caricatures of affluent adults without problems worth giving a hoot about. Their children are bland and boring; take them out of the picture and the final product would have been the same, more or less. The nanny (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) could have provided an outsider’s perspective but she, too, blends in the background during the second half. Why should we care about the potential victims when they fail to bring anything to the table? How are they different from characters in horror films whose sole purpose is to appear on screen just so the audience can see what happens to them?

There are mythical elements in the film that suggest Borgman and his crew are no ordinary human beings. There is implication that two in the group have the ability to transmogrify into canines. One can deduct that Borgman can control minds; he certainly has the ability to influence a person’s dreams. These are creepy elements but they are not utilized in such a way that grabs the viewer.

Perhaps the writer-director’s goal is to create an understated psychological mystery—so understated that it can be argued that the film is also a drama, a critique of a family that can have anything they want and yet they are neither living it up nor are they truly happy. But the picture is not written in such a way that the characters are rich with personalities, thoughts, and dimension. They are puppets—to be controlled to react, sometimes in the most absurd manner, for sake of plot. For instance, Marina does not think twice after she sends a complete stranger to the house where her daughter is sleeping.

“Borgman” is a jigsaw puzzle but with half of the pieces missing. Thus, when one thinks that all of the pieces are in their rightful place, the rest must be imagined. It is a competently made picture: it is well-shot, the performers deliver what they are required, and it asks the audience to participate. But it is not a good thriller. Composed only of equally interesting exposition and rising action, one gets duped into staying with it for two hours for there is a threat possibly worth exploring but, alas, no punch.

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