Ali Abbasi's understated troll drama Border looks at first like it's going to be a ... wait, sorry, let's hold up. Can we reflect on the fact that critics can now write the words "understated troll drama" without so much as batting an eye? We've had sensitive zombie romances, gentle cannibal dramas, moody vampire coming-of-age pictures. Once upon a time, an unassuming, intimate story exploring the inner life of a mythical, cave-dwelling creature from Scandinavian folklore might have seemed genuinely innovative.
To its credit, Border keeps the fantastical stuff to a minimum at first. All we know of our protagonist Tina (a very good Eva Melander) at first is that she is a quiet, somber Swedish customs guard working a border crossing and also, as it happens, has rough skin, heavy brow and wide-set eyes. She can literally smell fear, anger or shame. In the woods outside her home, she communes with animals, cavorting with deer and a moose.
Nobody says "troll" at first, and the film initially keeps us in a gray area as to how exactly its world works. Things gain some clarity when Vore (Eero Milonoff) walks through customs. He's got Tina's features, but he's also confident and cool. He tells her she's not alone: There are more trolls out there like them, in scattered little communities. Charismatic, and even a little cruel, Vore captivates Tina, and allows her to explore her true nature -- or what he tells her is her true nature. While the film does take some twists and turns -- some fairly contrived -- it mostly drills down and explores her emotional conundrum without drawing symbolic conclusions about the world we live in.