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Review: Borgman


You can stop looking, the most intriguing home invasion thriller film has been found. Its name: Borgman. “It” could also be an apt descriptor of the film’s titular antagonist person plot-catalyst too, if we want to jump straight in? We do? Goody.

Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) scares the bejesus out of me, guys. Borgman opens with a curiously ambiguous sequence wherein a priest and his gruff pals adventure into a forest and chase the film’s eponymous character and his friends out of homely looking holes in the ground. It’s all very Watership Down meets “ummm, what?” From there, the ground dwellers split up (equipped with Nokia 8210s, they can always text each other if they find a nice bit of marsh). Borgman wanders in to civilisation and knocks on the doors of a wealthy residential area, asking if he can take a bath – as you do – and understandably has the door shut on his face umpteen times. Eventually, at the home of a particularly affluent-looking family, Borgman entices a father (Jeroen Perceval) into engaging in a bit of fisticuffs when he alludes to a fictitious relationship that he held with the man’s wife. The wife (Hadewych Minis), conflicted but mostly feeling bad for the poor vagrant, invites him to stay in their shed for a few days whilst she nurses his wounds as an apology for her husband’s actions. From there Camiel Borgman’s tongue is a mighty, mighty thing as he worms his way into the family’s affairs and slowly tears their one-perfect unit apart.

There is something incredibly unsettling about the dutch suburbia and enigmatic presence of Borgman in this extraordinarily ordinary film. Writer-director Alex van Warmerdam could definitely be a genius. Nothing about the film – other than stellar acting all around – particularly stands out: the world is so mundane; the familial drama is so common; and Borgman’s intentions are so blase we are put into  a state of nonplus. Something is happening to this family, and Borgman is involved, but the guy’s harmless.

Okay, sure, putting people’s heads in buckets of cement and then throwing said people into the bottom of a lake is undoubtedly evil, but for the most part Borgman’s interactions with the family are so inconsequential and nonchalant that you can’t help doubting those thoughts that tell you he’s an antagonist. He’s the finger that pushes the first domino and that’s it. And just like that, in writing this, I’ve realized that I’ve come around to his cunning too. Up until this moment I was just as ignorantly unwary as his suburban ‘victims’. Gosh, this man is good.

I’m not doing a great job of selling this film but that’s because it’s hard to categorize it or go into too much detail without you having already seen it. There is nothing to explain; you either get pulled into its weird drama or you don’t. Borgman is an anomaly – a really, really great – or, quite frankly, rubbish film – that will have you gaping at your screen and biting your fingernails to the skin. It’s not full of traditional scares or jumps or creeps but past the inanity of its average-ness (which is where the supreme chills come from, really), Borgman is one of the best or worst thrillers you can see this year.


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