It’s one thing for horror cinema to show us that stupid college kids going to foreign countries is a sure-fire way to get yourself killed. But it’s a whole different kind of terror to tell us that a day-trip out of Galveston, Texas just across the border into Mexico can result in death and dismemberment at the hands of a crazed cult of drug dealers. If that concept sounds like the kind of ripe exploitation fare that used to fill dozens of late 70’s drive-ins or another in a long succession of new millennium torture cinema then consider the case of Mark Kilroy, a 21-year old University of Texas student who disappeared during Spring Break in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico one unsuspecting March day in 1989. When police discovered his body a month later, alongside the corpses of a dozen others, the investigation uncovered an agenda of ritualistic slaughter carried out by a band of drug runners purposefully designed to protect their interests from the authorities.
Co-Writer and Director Zev Berman—a college student at the time the Kilroy murder took place, found himself and two friends caught up in the investigation as the Mexican Army frantically searched for the missing student—has taken that experience and turned in an honest and brutally realistic tale of three friends, whose last hurrah before heading off on their post-collegiate pursuits, turns into a nightmare when one is kidnapped and they are forced to confront an unimaginable evil that exists in the lawless frontier of Borderland.
Feeding the story with the source material of the Kilroy case, Berman grounds the film in reality. The idea that a group of smugglers could make themselves invisible to law enforcement and impervious to harm through the use of ritual human sacrifice could have been handled in a hokey or excessive way. Instead, the director delivers a human story that on one side, paints a friendship pushed to the very limits of reason and on the other illustrates a cult leader’s god-like quest for power and the control such an individual wields over his followers.
The performances from the cast are exceptional and the filmmakers populate their production with a diverse international cast including Rider Strong (CABIN FEVER), Damián Alcázar (THE CRIME OF FATHER AMARO), Mexican Soap Star Martha Higareda, and LORD OF THE RINGS favorite friend Sean Astin.
It’s the casting of Austin in the role of Randall that is the real coup d’état for the film. Randall is so far removed from the congenial performances that the actor is known for it almost seems unfathomable. He is a filthy killer who takes quite a toll on Higareda’s character later on the film, yet still comes off as affable, infusing his terrifying creation with just enough humanity to make the monster even more foreboding.
In addition to Astin’s career re-defining performance the film features relative newcomer Brian Presley (HOME OF THE BRAVE) in an impressive showing. Presley’s character of Ed is forced by fate become the default hero of the film and Presley imbues his performance with an equal amount of charisma and compassion. As much as any of the three friends, he finds himself trapped in a situation beyond his control and when the decision between life or death surrounds him, he fights back with the ferocity of a cornered beast.
It would be difficult if not impossible to fully disassociate Borderland from the realm of torture cinema. This is especially evident as the first 15-minutes of the film unfold. The loss of limbs and eyeballs and the severing of flesh from machetes and hacksaws do little to dissuade the comparison. But once the films major plot takes over, the production becomes less about the horrific effects work of crew at KNB and more about the lives that are destroyed over the course of what was supposed to be a celebration of youth and freedom. Still, for all you gorehounds, I can promise you that the beginning and ending of the production are full of all the bloody bits of tattered torsos that you could ever need to sate your sanguine desires—and certainly enough to qualify Berman’s film categorically within the horror genre.
I was not entirely sure what to expect as I crossed into BORDERLAND, but the film mixes the dramatic aspects of a true crime story with elements indicative of modern horror cinema to great triumph. One of the most important things that a film can do, especially a horror film, is capture the audience’s consideration. Some aspect of the project needs to be readily identifiable in some respect to the viewer. In BORDERLAND, the idea of how far you would go to protect your friends and your own life is at the forefront of what makes the movie so successful at capturing your attention and holding it through a real-life situation that hopefully none of us will ever have the displeasure of living through.