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Voodoo South of the Border

  • Nov 10, 2007
There's a moment in "Borderland" when a Mexican cop points a shotgun at the leader of a cult. I don't remember what the cop said, but I do remember that it reminded me of Mandy Patinkin in "The Princess Bride": "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." No, this is not the desired effect of "Borderland," and that only makes me question my feelings for it. Here's a film that gets more and more ugly with every passing scene; what starts out as an interesting story ends up as a violent blood fest, with virtually every character dependent on machetes and guns to get a point across. The film opens with a disclaimer saying it's inspired by true events, and it ends with facts for the audience to read. I guess that means we're supposed to believe it, much like when we believed the "true" stories of "The Amityville Horror" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

But for all its glaring flaws, there's still something appealing about "Borderland," if only just. The opening scene shows two Mexican cops raiding a house in Mexico City; upon entering, they discover an assortment of bizarre things, such as strange signs drawn on the floor, various pieces of bloody animal meat, and a human jawbone. They're then attacked by a group of insane cult members, who seem to take great pleasure in chopping off various body parts. This is exactly what happens to one of the cops while the other--Ulises (Damián Alcázar)--is forced to watch. He was allowed to live so that he could spread word about the cult leader, referred to as Papa. I have no idea what this would accomplish, but I suppose it doesn't really matter.

The story then flashes forward one year, and that's when we're introduced to three graduating friends from Texas: the hotheaded non-conformist Henry (Jake Muxworthy); the desperate virgin Phil (Rider Strong); and Ed (Brian Presley), the main character. Before entering college and going their separate ways, they drive into Mexico looking for drugs, alcohol, and sex. Initially, they don't find much of anything--Phil takes pity on a young prostitute with an infant child, Ed befriends an English-speaking bartender named Valeria (Martha Higareda), and Henry is just being Henry. But after a short while, the three young men are thrust into a nightmare, one that will only get bleaker as the film progresses. One should expect nothing less from a film like this, especially since these characters are broadly drawn and never developed.

It all begins when Phil is kidnapped, and we quickly realize that his captors are the same cult members from the film's opening. They take him to an isolated barn, and after having his wrists tied above his head, he meets an American named Randall--a character that would fit right in with the clan from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" were it not for his soft, clean-cut voice. I say this because the role of Randall was given to Sean Astin, an actor I neither expected nor wanted in this kind of film; the man who brought Samwise Gamgee to life so wonderfully is too good for a low budget shocker. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure why his character was included in the first place.

And here's where the film loses some steam. In their search for Phil, Ed and Henry meet with Ulises, who has spent much of the past year gathering evidence against the evil cult. From him, we learn that this cult practices human sacrifice in the belief that it will appease an ancient god. In stories like this, it's all about ancient gods that demand a blood sacrifice every so often; in this case, the victim needed to be a white American because, according to the leader--Santillian (Beto Cuevas)--Mexican victims are no longer effective. Phil has been made the key to bringing this god forth, and this is obviously a bad thing, especially since it involves numerous scenes of his physical and psychological torture. It's actually a pathetic sight--a bleeding, sobbing, half-naked young man with a crudely shaved head. I felt sorry for him.

And that's how I was supposed to feel, I guess. But how far is our sympathy supposed to go? How long are we supposed to invest in these characters? By the time we reach the incredibly violent last third of the film--in which Ed, Valeria, and Ulises search through the cult's compound--I began to wonder if we were, in fact, watching a character driven film; at a certain point, it seemed more like a film that was made gory just for the sake of being gory. Some films can pull that off, specifically those made to be campy. But "Borderland" is not campy in the least, even when the occasional joke is told. It's intense and dramatic, about as serious as the amputation of an arm (yes, that does happen to someone, and no, I won't say who that someone is).

But something is preventing me from dismissing this film entirely. The dynamic between Presley, Muxworthy, and Strong is interesting, if a little shallow, and I got a kick out of Muxworthy's performance. Some of the camerawork is creative, such as in a scene where the characters are high on mushrooms; their movements were choppy, much like an Internet video playing on a computer with a slow modem. There are also a fair number of scenes shot with an unsteady camera, and I still can't decide if this is effective or just visually aggravating. The same can be said for "Borderland" as a whole, a film that doesn't quite work simply because it doesn't know what it wants to be. Maybe a human sacrifice will put things into perspective.

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More Borderland reviews
review by . December 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*1/2 out of ****    "Borderland" is the kind of horror film that most genre fans will right up. One minute, it's an easy-going dramedy about three friends chasing beaver, and in another; it's a violent, loud, unnecessary thrill-ride limited to screams of bloody murder and torture chambers. One cannot help but be reminded of "Hostel"; which also contained most of what "Borderland" does, although with much more gratuitous amounts of blood and boobs. There was nothing particularly …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
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Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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