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Borderland
cast: Brian Presley, Rider Strong, Jake Muxworthy, Martha Higareda

director: Zev Berman

95 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Mark West
After a strong opening, featuring two policemen in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the dreadful fate that befalls one of them, we move forward a year and meet three friends who are about to enjoy their last summer before attending university. Ed (Brian Presley, whose head looks remarkably like one Gerry Anderson might have sculpted for Captain Scarlet) is the conscientious one, dropping out of the rat-race to go and perform good deeds in Africa. Phil (Rider Strong) is a preacher's son, carried along by his friends, and desperate to get laid. Henry (Jake Muxworthy) is their resident doctor/ drug dealer, whose big idea is to head to Mexico and take in all the carnal delights that country has to offer.

Things don't go well from the start - Phil's prostitute has her baby in her room and gives the infant to him to hold, thus killing any thought of passion. Ed falls for the bartender, a tough girl who is new to the area and Henry gets them all high enough that they do things they shouldn't - including getting into a car, filled with the thugs who killed the policemen in the opening sequence.

If you've watched Paradise Lost (aka: Turistas) or, indeed, Hostel, the story will be familiar - fish-out-of-water, suckered into a sequence of events beyond their control or comprehension - and you'll know how this is going to pan out. Certainly, the reason they're kidnapped and killed is different this time (and, actually, is quite well done), but otherwise you're put in the position of rooting for the goodies (tourists) and booing the baddies (locals whose customs are, shall we say, a bit suspect).

This isn't a knock-off, though, to its credit. The characters are all well-rounded and mostly believable and, crucially, we begin to care about them and what will become of them. The locations are well chosen and suitably dusty, the paranoia is heaped on in spoonfuls and, best of all, the excellent makeup work is shown sparingly (apart from a wince-making sequence with an Achilles tendon). The actors all give good performances (Sean Astin is a long, long way from LOTR's Samwise, or The Goonies), it's nicely shot (apart from the now obligatory shaky-cam sequences) and the film is coloured and highly contrasted, to give it that 1970s' washed-out, grubby feel.

The film also has lots of nice little touches that lift it away from being simply exploitation (which it could easily have become). The baddies aren't personalised, but have a distinctive enough look (the man with no eyebrows looks very strong) and characteristics to easily mark themselves out, the whole concept of Nganga (the MacGuffin) makes perfect sense whilst you're watching it and the use of sound (or lack of it) is nicely done. The trip sequence, that starts the whole sorry chain of events, is well made, with jittery sound and vision and a clever use of light.

According to a title card at the beginning, Borderland is 'inspired by true events', a ruse that continues through to an end-card. I have no idea if that's the case or not (though I have heard of this kind of thing happening), but it would have been nice to see some background on that - which might be the case, if there are any documentaries on the retail version (the screener has no extras).

So, not a good film to watch if you're planning to head to Mexico, but for an occasionally gruesome but well-made and well-told DVD rental, you could do a lot worse.
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