Jan Bijvoet as the mysterious title character in Borgman



Borgman reminds me of a movie I kind of liked. But it also reminds me of a movie I hated.

The flick I liked was the recent Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien who uses sex to lure men to their doom. The flick I hated was 2007’s Funny Games, in which two creeps take over an upper-middle-class household and begin treating the family in a most sadistic manner.

Borgman has eccentricities all its own, but it contains elements of both films. Like Under the Skin, it’s about a mysterious figure whose malevolent actions are never quite explained. And as in Funny Games, the individual’s target is a well-to-do family.

Written and directed by Alex van Warmerdam (Voyeur), the subtitled Dutch film begins with a scene that sets the off-kilter tone: A priest leads a Communion ceremony, then grabs a shotgun and leads a small posse into the woods. There they locate and attack the underground bunker of a grizzled man who goes by the name of Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet).

Camiel escapes and eventually ends up at the home of wealthy executive Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and his artist-wife, Marina (Hadewych Minis). Brazenly asking for a bath and pretending he knows Marina from long ago, Camiel manages to get himself beaten up by Richard. But we suspect that was his plan all along, as Marina takes pity on him and secretly allows him to stay in a guesthouse while he heals.

From this point on, Borgman is the story of Camiel’s efforts to worm his way into the confidence of Marina and her children, with help from his apparent ability to shape people’s dreams. By the time his four cohorts enter the picture, he is firmly entrenched.

Full of cruel (but largely un-bloody) violence, Borgman mixes horror with dashes of black comedy. There’s also a fair amount of suspense, though there would be more if the outcome were less in doubt.

What does it all mean? Writer/director van Warmerdam supplies few clues.

Telling a bedtime story to Richard and Marina’s young children, Camiel briefly mentions that “bore” Jesus, offering evidence that the priest had reason to consider him an evil threat. Beyond that and an offhand reference to the world’s economic disparity, viewers are left to figure out for themselves just what motivates Camiel and his guerilla band.

Masterfully filmed and craftily acted, Borgman is as inscrutable as Under the Skin, though it lacks that film’s redeeming hint of humanity. It should be a diverting puzzle for those with a taste for offbeat horror.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)


Borgman (unrated) opens July 11 at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus.