I knew going into Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman was going to be a strange experience, but I wasn’t expecting it to be a trippy fairytale-like nightmare that was tightly wrapped up in a bizarre story. It’s a very special kind of film that lays on a pitch black atmosphere that never lets you get comfortable, not even for a second. Last year we had Ben Weatley’s A Field in England to turn our brain matter into mush, this year we’ve got a wonderfully weird Borgman. It centers on a man on the run who stumbles into the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare.
From the onset we are introduced to this very slithery, creepy looking human—Borgman—who’s on the run from a priest and two other hunters armed with shotguns. We aren’t told why Borgman, who was hiding underground, is on the run or what he did to deserve being chased through the woods by three pissed off gentlemen. But it’s certainly safe to assume that Borgman was up to no good. That’s just the beginning, though, as the film doesn’t start to settle in until he finds his way to a very nice, secluded home. And this is where Alex van Warmerdam plants the seed of his uncanny tale.
Borgman—even from the moment it starts—is an entirely atmospheric indie feature that takes its time building skin-crawling tension that is smothered in mystery. And a lot of Borgman’s power comes from the mystery of what it’s not telling the audience as it’s ripe with questions designed to keep you on edge and scratching your head until the very end. It’s a daring move to build a film around a story that isn’t entirely clear to the audience, and that’s exactly what Borgman does. It isn’t outright scary, nor is there much of the red stuff, but it does a fantastic job of coupling the eerie narrative with some haunting imagery that will leave you with a sense of unease as the story unfolds.
But its only real fault is that it never answers any of the searing questions it lays out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for leaving a story up to the imagination but you’ve got to give us something. You can’t toss a dog a bone and not even let it taste the damn thing. And because we’re never given any explanation of why Borgman does what he does, it’s easy to walk away from this one feeling a little underwhelmed.
If you like films that leave a lot on the table to be interpreted, then you certainly can’t go wrong here. Alex van Warmerdam has delivered a straight-up unnerving little flick that turns the home-invasion genre on its head and drops it into a murky lake. And one thing is for sure, I doubt any other film will be topping Borgman in the weird department this year.