It was just over a year ago that I caught Zev Berman's Borderland at the South By Southwest Film Festival.
I liked the film (I'll be more specific in a minute, I promise), but I thought it would make for a fairly "tough sell," given that actors Brian Presley, Rider Strong and Sean Astin, although cool and talented, aren't exactly big-time box-office behemoths. I figured that Borderland would end up as a Weinstein's pick-up or a Lionsgate acquisition, but when I heard that the flick would be playing theatrically as part of the After Dark Horrorfest, I thought two things right away: 1. Hey, good for Zev. A big-time theatrical release! 2. Hey, good for After Dark. This is easily their best offering so far! (Mike Mendez's The Gravedancers was the highlight of the '07 batch.)
The plot is nothing startlingly unique -- except when you consider that it's based on a well-documented (and very nasty) real-life event. Basically, three young buddies head down to a U.S. / Mexico border town, and (through no fault of their own) get tangled up with a seriously vicious gang of drug-lords who are DEEPLY committed to a Satanic cult of some sort. It takes a little while for Borderland to pick up a head of steam, but once it gets rolling, you probably won't mind that the plot feels borrowed from a half-dozen pieces of "survival horror" from the past several years.
Shot on location in an effectively stark and arid border town in Mexico, Borderland certainly seems to capture the "feel" that Berman was going for. This is not a polished or glitzed-up piece of "fun" horror, but a dark and frequently powerful thriller that seems fairly conventional in some respects -- but then throws you a few curve balls and surprises before capping it all off with an roughly pulse-doubling finale. The performances are a whole lot stronger than what's normally found in flicks of this ilk. Presley, Strong and Jake Muxworthy make for an entirely believable trio, and they're given just enough character development to let us care about what happens down the road. Toss in a great turn by Damian Alcazar as a worn-out cop with a serious grudge, a disconcertingly vicious performance by Sean Astin, and the stunningly beautiful face of Martha Higareda, and you've got a surprisingly excellent cast anchoring this creepy ship.
The horror fans will most likely dig Borderland, and it'll probably send a few viewers home itching to "wiki" the actual truth of the story. So while the flick offers a fairly familiar tale, it does so in admirably gritty fashion. Berman balances the weight of the actual events with the desire to mount a simply effective horror story, and I think he pulls it off quite well. Boiled down to the basics: If you liked Hostel, I suspect you'll dig this one -- and if you actually paid money to see Turistas, then I definitely think you'll be a lot more satisfied with Borderland. Plus the DVD is pretty well-stocked!
Tech-wise we get an impressive anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and English / Spanish subtitles. Supplementally speaking, we've got a solid platter: First up we get a very informative and enthusiastic audio commentary from director Zev Berman, producer Lauren Moews, cinematographer Scott Kevan, and lead actor Brian Presley -- and a good chat-track practically doubles a DVD's value in my eyes. Also included is a rock-solid 30-minute documentary that focuses on the true events behind the film by way of extensive interviews with former Brownsville, Texas, deputy sheriff George Gavito. Then we get a basic-but-entertaining 20-minute "making of" / interview piece called Inside Zev's Head, and a few webisodes for After Dark Miss Horrorfest promotion. Also, the disc opens with a metric ton of (skippable) Lionsgate trailers.
For more on 'Borderland' check out our exclusive interview with star Rider Strong.