Director – Alex van Warmerdam
Starring – Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval
Its been nearly 2 months since the last Eurohorror Spotlight. This is mainly due to Spotlight writer James Simpson moving house (or being lazy???), but now the series returns with its 8th instalment. On offer is the recent hit Dutch movie Borgman…
We see a group of three men with guns and a dog walking through the woods. They start bashing at the earth beneath their feet. Beneath them is a homeless and very scruffy looking man (Bijvoet) living in an underground hide away he has dug. He escapes via a maze of tunnels he has also dug. He emerges back on the surface away from these men and runs away, alerting two men in similar subterranean homes. He walks on without them and eventually approaches a upper class detached house and rings the door bell. The owner, a middle aged woman, answers but slams the door on him when he asks for a place to stay for one night.
He finds another upper class house, this time a man, Richard (Perceval), answers. The homeless man pretends to know the man’s wife, Marina (Minis), in an attempt to blag his way into the home. She tells the truth, she doesn’t know him. Richard is so angry he viciously beats the homeless man and leaves him on the door step. Later that night Marina spots lights from the garage: the homeless man has sneaked in. She goes in and tells the homeless man he can stay for one night but Richard must not know.
One night turns into several as the homeless man now sleeps in a little used guest house. Even the children and nanny know of his existence yet Richard does not. Marina goes to great lengths to keep this stranger in her home, even begging him to stay when he tries to leave. One day, when there is only the gardener on the property, the homeless man starts to reveal his true colours as the real nature of his placid personality gives way to a much more sinister one.
Borgman, this name being what the homeless man eventually claims is his surname, is a truly bizarre tale of the ability some people have to brainwash others. Though out the movie Borgman seems able to convince everyone he meets to do what he wants, without actually having to talk them into it. His ‘power’ is hinted at early on, Marina pleading with him to stay as an example, but when the two other homeless men from earlier arrive to ‘help’ him it quickly takes over. Borgman, to start, has the appearance of an extremely unkempt man (which he is, really) with long dirty greying hair and a bushy beard. But what draws the viewers eyes to him are in fact his eyes as he has a powerful and intense stare for several scenes. Come the end of the film his uncanny ability to win people other sees the children and nanny of Marina and Richard gladly ‘convert’ to Borgman’s side with shocking results.
Before it is established that the lead character has some sort of mind control over others it appears that Marina helps the homeless man due to an unhappy existence. She often has nightmares that her husband is beating her and he often ignores her when she is awake. Does her hiding this man give her a thrill? When Richard gives her an expensive diamond necklace she looks totally underwhelmed. But moments later when it appears Borgman is leaving she chases after him, nearly in tears. Is this because she is sexually attracted to him and hopes any liaisons with Borgman will fulfil her life in ways her marriage no longer does? It doesn’t matter, however, once the truth comes out in relation to the outsiders Charles Manson-like ‘people skills’.
As the plot moves along the actions of Borgman and his fellow homeless followers become ever more violent and sinister. Some can be predicted but most of what happens in the final 30 minutes turn up the shock factor. The children willingly let Borgman’s followers perform minor surgery on them in their bedrooms, as does the nanny. What is being done to them and why is never fully explained or revealed but the fact these people allow it to happen to them for the sake of Borgman is creepy.
As well as the intriguing plot and characters there is a lot of striking imagery. A reoccurring image is that of Borgman grouching over Marina as she has various nightmares. It brings to mind the oil painting The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli. Dating back to 1781 it features a woman sleeping as an Incubus (a demon associated with sex or torment) is grouching on her chest. Some say the painting is a depiction of people being affected by nightmares. If this links in to what Borgman does to Marina then is he a physical embodiment of what nightmares await her? It is one of the strongest images offered during the film.
The film was a hit at last years Cannes Film Festival and was picked up for US distribution. Sadly, for now, it is only available in its native Dutch language with no English subtitles. Those who have seen it, this writer included, have been very impressed.
A chilling and often shocking look at the power some men can have over others, Borgman is a fascinating Eurohorror to check out when the English subtitled release eventually arrives.
8 out of 10.