Horrorfest '07: Borderland (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers' 300th review lands him smack in the middle of the Horrorfest.
Three college buddies travel just south of Texas to a border town for a weekend of hard drinking, hot sex, and hallucinatory drug use. At the end of the second night of partying one buddy goes missing, and the other two go looking for him with the help of a dishevelled ex-police detective telling stories of a cult of criminals practicing brutal human sacrifices.
Like most of the Horrorfest releases, Borderland is basically a slight twist on an overdone formula. At its base the film is just another dead partying teenagers in a strange land flick, in the vein of Hostel, Wolf Creek, Turistas, Live Feed, and of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original and remake). Though it isn’t the best of its kind, the movie does play a bit against our expectations, and it’s very well made. The plot is based on a factual and publicly available case, not unlike most similar films, but manages to produce a few pleasant surprises here and there.
Borderland might be the most violent of the Horrorfest titles, but most of its gore is delegated to the first scene. Gore hounds looking forward to unrated Hostel level shocks may be disappointed, but fans of sloppy bullet hits and fist-smashed faces will have plenty to celebrate. As seems to be a common problem for this year’s Horrorfest, Borderland isn’t really a horror film. It contains plenty of disturbing and horrific imagery, but the suspense and violence is usually played more in the style of a cop thriller or episode of Law and Order.
Acting is solid overall. I wouldn’t call any of the cast particularly amazing, but everyone sells their part. Interestingly enough it’s relatively well know Rider Strong that’s the weakest member of the ensemble, though this is more a case of miscasting rather than a bad performance (I thought Strong was, erm, strong in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever). The cast’s king comes in the form of a shockingly revealed Sean Astin, who seems to have finally taken up Elijah Wood’s post- Lord of the Rings rout and played a charmingly awful bad guy (based, apparently, on Henry Lee Lucas’ buddy Otis O’Toole).
Visually the film impresses beyond any of the other Horrorfest titles, and I’m guessing it was considered for a solo release before Turistas and Captivity flopped. My problem with this bold, super saturated, super high contrast style is that it’s somehow become the visual theme of Latin America. Similar processes were used in Traffic, Amores Perros, Babel, and City of God, all of which also use similar colour pallets. The look has also already been used to great effect in two similar survival horror movies—Alexander Aja’s Hills Have Eyes remake and one of my personal favourite old school call backs Wolf Creek. It looks stylish and cool, and I appreciate the filmmaker’s restraint in editing, but I’ve seen it before and recently.
I already mentioned Borderland’s striking visual style, and this is the film in the set that could’ve really done with a high-definition release. The high contrast blacks and whites look pretty sharp, but they push the format more or less as far as it can go. Standard definition blacks are simply not as true and deep as those in high-definition, but they try their best. There isn’t a lot of noise or pixilation, and the high saturation colours blend nicely. Details aren’t the disc’s strong point, but the photography doesn’t aim for them. Facial close-ups are a little smooth and wide shot details are damaged by edge enhancement, which can partially be blamed on the flair-out caused by the bleach bypass process.
Borderland fill budgetary gaps with thick and aggressive sound design. This 5.1 track throbs with anticipation even during basic dialogue scenes. The world of the border town is alive and well throughout the feature, complete with passing cars beeping and playing music, marching pedestrians, and even some less then natural sound effects that add a bit of extra volume. The machete chops are juicy as ripe melons and the gun shots have loud and poppy impact. The original music is very effective, if not a little predictable, and does a fantastic job of bringing more Latin authenticity into the story without overstating itself.
Adding credence to my theory that Borderland was destined for a real theatrical release, this disc has the most extras of the entire Horrorfest catalogue this year. This starts with a full and informational commentary track featuring director Zev Berman, actor Brian Presley, D.P. Scott Kevan and producer Lauren Moews. Berman is the outspoken leader of the track, but he’s sure to include the other players by asking them questions about their parts in the production. This isn’t a back-patting track, but it isn’t full of shallow false modesty either. Berman’s comments are intelligent and honest enough that I really wanted to like the film more then I actually did.
Next is ‘Inside Zev’s Head’, a featurette concerning the motives and processes of director Zev Berman. It also works as a decent making-of featurette. The warmly spirited director walks us through the filming process from pre-production through post-production, though a lot of his words are already made clear during the commentary track. This well paced feature utilizes quite a bit of behind the scenes footage and behind the scenes photographs mixed with Berman’s talking head and footage from the film itself.
‘Rituales de Sangre’ is the best part of the disc—a little documentary about the real story behind the film produced by Berman specifically for the DVD release. The victim’s names have been changed to protect the innocent, etcetera, but the basic narrative of the story is in tact. The doc centres around an interview with the main detective behind the case, and his testimony is augmented with photos and footage from the investigation, including really disturbing camcorder footage of the accused being forced to dig up the bodies as they’re questioned. The thirty-minute doc also defines the religious beliefs of the drug runners in layman’s terms. A chilling portrayal of a chilling event, treated with dignity and respect for the dead. If the solid commentary made me want to like Borderland more, this featurette made me pine for what could’ve been a really great thriller.
The disc ends with the same The Eye and the Horrorfest itself, along with another ‘Miss Horrorfest’ webisode. It’s nice to look at half nude girls, but the webisode isn’t particularly interesting, and this is coming from a fellah who watched every episode of The Search for the Next Elvira with relish.
Borderland is a well-made and well-acted thriller, but it never quite finds a voice of its own. Director Zev Berman is a skilled technician, and I fully expect more solid work from him in the future. This disc looks and sounds great, better then a low budget thriller should, and it houses the most substantial extras of the entire 2007 After Dark Horrorfest.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 18th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Director/Actor/DP/Producer Commentary, Inside Zev's Head, Rituales de Sangre, Trailers, Webisodes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Zev Berman
Cast: Sean Astin, Roberto Sosa, Damián Alcázar, Rider Strong, Jose Maria Yazpik
Length: 106 minutes
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