Jul 8, 2014

A smart thriller that's also urbane horror.


Grade: A-

Director: Alex van Warmerdam ( The Last Days of Emma Blank)

Screenplay: van Warmerdam

Cast: Jan Bijvoet (Nowhere Man), Hadewych Minis (Mannenharten)

Rating: NR

Runtime: 113 min.

by John DeSando

There are home invasion films like the violent and seminal, my favorite, Straw Dogs; then recently there is one of the most unusual of them all, Borgman. An intriguing Scandinavian import, this thriller cum horror flick is about the titular vagrant worming his way into the home of a seemingly normal suburban family with results that could  be described as bizarre or, depending on your inclination to see this type as allegory, wildly representational, or straight out horror.

The pleasure of this thrill ride is to watch the slow devolvement into controlled chaos, from the relatively simple task of three men routing out Borgman from his den under the forest leaves to the elaborate reconstruction of the backyard including a pond in which strange plantings occur. Soon it becomes apparent that writer/director Alex van Warmerdam has felt the influence of such gothic stories as Martha Marcy May Marlene and the Night of the Hunter.

To make this a complete terror, three children are in the mix to show that the outré activity aims at one level to bring them into a cult world where people who don't help the elaborate scheme are disposed of, sometimes simply with poison, at other levels with an imaginative take on the garden motif.  Only later does the audience become aware that Borgman and his four accomplices is a band of seemingly civilized marauders capable of elaborate scenarios to dispatch their targets.

Given the imaginative construction of this unusual mystery, multiple interpretations are possible. Besides the obvious cult motif, Borgman may be commenting on the corrosive influence of media on family, such as television, the dangerous mindset of religion (one of the first scenes has a priest offering communion and then carrying a shotgun to dispatch the eponymous weirdo). Not much thinking need go into figuring the film is also a cautionary tale about letting strangers into your life before vetting them thoroughly.

More simply put, when a vagrant asks to take a bath, call for protection, and not just physical because these dudes are like Pied Pipers, who will easily seduce your children in recompense for your sins or just because they can.  And if the vagrant is named Borgman, surrender on the spot—he’s vampire deadly.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at