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Three college students, Phil, Ed, and Henry take a road trip into Mexico for a week of drinking and carefree fun only to have Phil find himself a captive of a group of satanic Mexican drug smugglers who kill tourists and whom are looking for a group of new ones to prepare for a sacrifice. Written by
Terrifying crime thriller, deserves much more attention than it's getting
I went into Borderland not knowing what I would find there. Just the subject matter suggested blood and gore. . .but how would it all pan out? A slasher film? Supernatural horror? Crime drama? Well, not to detract from the (very-well-done) slashing elements of the movie, and the supernatural pretensions of some of its protagonists, it turned out to be a very neat, beautifully realized crime thriller with a very sharp edge.
The film begins with a tension-filled scene that sets the stage for what is to come, as two Mexican cops investigate a sinister dark mansion in search of the mysterious Santillan. We don't know who he is at this point, only that his house bears testament to strange rites and animal sacrifices. When one of the cops discovers human remains among the animal ones, the action begins in earnest, and we learn very quickly that Santillan is not your average drug dealing psycho killer. No, his self-styled "religion", based on African Palo-Mayombe rites, involves ritual sacrifices of a particularly gruesome order, requiring not only blood, but abject terror, to appease the gods who then grant him favors to protect himself, his minions, and his drug trade.
Then the main story commences, as three recent college graduates from Texas decide to head across the border for a wild night or two of partying before going their separate ways. Through a seemingly random series of events, their lives collide with that of the cult/cartel, in unimaginably terrifying ways, and to no good end.
Dialogue was crisp and realistic throughout, as were all the settings. Acting was quite good, exceptional in some cases, and in some moments in particular. Brian Presley's final screen shots were excruciating depictions of a man turned against his own beliefs by brutal overriding experiences.
But all the acting was notable: Sean Astin acting against type as a brute and brutal follower of Santillan's camp; Martha Higareda as Brian Presley's love interest, and Rider Strong, whose descent into terror convinces every nerve of the horror of his experience. And as Santillan, Beto Cuevas exudes a silkily seductive but deeply sinister presence. In his portrayal, Santillan's overblown ego is always apparent (he believes himself to be invisible and invincible, a near-god himself, as long as he provides the sacrifices his bloodthirsty gods required). But most remarkable is his ability to convey what can only be described as compassionate cruelty. In one scene he tenderly caresses a chained victim who has been roughed up by one of the kidnappers, stating, blood-chillingly, "I don't believe in violence (pause) without a purpose." .
Zev Berman as co-writer and director exercises his trademark sensitivity to setting and tone, with clear and focused guidance and exquisite attention to detail. One episode that stood out for me took place in an amusement park, where four of the main characters ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms, a scene leading up to several pivotal moments in the story's development. It's always a challenge to depict experiences that are largely internal, even more so to do it convincingly. In this case, it was spot on. But that is just one example. Throughout, the slow buildup to the movie's climactic and hugely terrifying denouement is perfectly paced. And the camera work, dark and gritty, adds much to the overall feeling of impending horror.
I can't imagine why this movie did not receive a wider release. I hope, as a Variety reviewer said, that word of mouth will bring enough attention to it for blockbuster DVD sales. It deserves a great deal more than it is getting.
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