Release Date: 2023
Duration: 6 mins.
Director: Mai Nakanishi
Writer: Mai Nakanishi (Screenplay/Original Story),
Starring: Juhee Lee, Wanmin Chai, Sohee Lee,
Horror maven Mai Nakanishi provides a quick follow-up to her Taiwan-set supernatural story Swallow (interview) with a six-minute micro-budget short named Border.
Acting as writer, director, editor, and visual effects artist, she shot the film with a team half comprised of women and featuring sound effects from the team who worked on The Wailing. With Border, she has made what is her most violent vision yet, a twist on the home invasion formula where the safety of the domestic space is shattered in a nightmarish manner that surprises both the protagonist and the audience. Slight spoilers ahead.
We are in South Korea watching a young woman (Juhee Lee), home alone late in the evening. She is settling down to watch a drama after getting off the phone. On the screen, the handsome actor (Wanmin Chae) offers flowers to an actress (Sohee Lee). We listen to his honeyed words of love and togetherness. They move the woman watching their televised performance.
So far, so normal and comforting. With effective use of fixed cameras and slow zooms, the film cuts between close-ups of the woman watching the drama and the drama itself. We see and are moved by her cute and heartfelt reactions to the charming romance on her television and are equally lulled into a false sense of security as she is but there is a tension in the way we anticipate something happening, the way the camera observes.
Then! Borders are suddenly breached in an unexpected way as the televised romance takes an unscheduled turn into mayhem.
The transitions are done neatly via CG manipulation of the images on the television as frames jump and a match cut to occurs to turn props of love into props for murder. The soundtrack goes awry as romantic music morphs into that skin-crawl-inducing X-Files-esque plick-plucking of violin strings that signals something nasty abounds while static stabs from the speakers. It is a sharp series of shocks. Meanwhile the young woman desperately tries to change the channel with the TV remote as she gradually understands that she is losing control of reality.
Actor Juhee Lee really sells the frightening aspects of these moments in reaction shots intercut into the murder sequence on her screen as she goes from melting over amour to recoiling from aggression that continues crosses boundaries to horrific effect…
All of these smartly executed visual and aural manipulations mean Nakanishi delivers a nasty slice of visceral horror. She further ensnares us in how she plays on our expectations and implicates us in the violence. The scary scenes that we anticipate transpire but Nakanishi uses the power of suggestion, via sound effects and the actor’s exertions, rather than being explicit. This implicates viewers in the violence as what we “see” is dictated by us and this is partly informed by our expectations of what happens to women in the horror genre.
Lurking behind everything are further anxiety-inducing intellectual thrusts about the loss of control. Beyond Juhee Lee’s successful performance, Nakanishi’s strong story and framing of the action ensures we are made to share the lead character’s position. We undergo similar shocks that she does when the media she consumes crosses boundaries unexpectedly and control is lost. This is underlined an ending that ties together our complicity and vulnerability in a nasty little twist that will leave viewers shocked and questioning the media they consume…
BORDER is currently playing in the Generation X, Y, Z slot at the Tampere Film Festival and it will soon screen at HARD:LINE International Film Festival in Germany.