Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (Let the Right One In) short story Gräns, Border is the latest from filmmaker Ali Abbasi (Shelley), which is centered around a seemingly ungainly woman named Tina (Eva Melander), who works as a customs officer and comes to realize that some of her preternatural abilities come from her true non-human identity, leaving her questioning her place in this world. Tina finds something of a kindred spirit in the mysterious Vore (Eero Milonoff), who bears a resemblance to her both physically and by way of their shared mannerisms, but their immediate connection is jeopardized once Tina sees Vore for what he really is.

Border arrives in theaters in both New York and Los Angeles this weekend, with a subsequent national theatrical rollout to follow, and to mark the occasion, Daily Dead spoke with both Abbasi and Melander about their experiences working on the film, and the duo discussed everything from adapting Lindqvist’s original story to Melander’s unforgettable transformation into Tina, as well as the film being chosen as Sweden’s official Best Foreign Language Film submission for this year’s Oscars, and more.

Congratulations to both of you. I have never experienced a film like Border before and I know this is going to stick with me for some time. Ali, I would love to start with you. Because this is a film based on John's story, I'm curious, how did this story come into your life and what was it in your mind that you thought this would make for a perfect vehicle for a film?

Ali Abbasi: Well, it wasn't really a perfect vehicle for a film, and in some ways, I still don't think it is. The reason I read it was because a friend of mine told me about this story and said, “Okay, if you think that Let the Right One In is crazy, then check out this one. It's about this woman who isn’t really a woman, falls in love with a man who isn’t really a man.” And, as it turns out, nothing in this story is what it seems. I thought it sounded interesting.

I was like, "Okay, that sounds interesting." I read it and I think one of the things that was really interesting about it was the fact that with a lot of other fantasy, mythology stories, you have a lot of plots. You have a lot of things going on and the crazy turns and twists and that's probably why people read them, too, and this one didn't really have much of that stuff. It was mostly about this character who felt lonely and sad and melancholic and loveless, and then you found out she was a troll. It was just this interesting combination of where on one hand, all these things that are very universal and serious, but on the other hand, it also has these fantasy elements to it, too.

So, when I started thinking about it, I thought it was really fascinating, but it was also a challenge, because it’s only probably something like 40 pages long. You need more material to do a feature, no matter which way you are going, so we had to expand the universe. We had to have more things happening. For that, we had to expand a very specific narrative that somebody had written, which was for me the real challenge. We basically had to write the short story again. You should ask John if he agrees with me, but I think what we did was that we kept the original DNA of the story at the center of everything. We changed some stuff, we added some stuff, too, but I still think the original story is still about this character who feels lonely and melancholic and loveless.

Eva, there's so much with Tina that is really relatable, despite the circumstances of her existence. What were your first thoughts about this character and wanting to dive into this world that she lives in?

Eva Melander: What I found really fascinating is that she doesn't know who she is and that she is totally different from who she thinks she is. Like a human, she's not a human, but she's doing whatever she can to pass as a human. Doing this character who has rubbed herself out totally and believes that she lives with her adopted parents, and she has these chromosome differences, and all those lies about her, she does really believe everything she’s been told. But inside of her, she would always feel like she knows something is wrong.

Every house that is built, every chair that is made, every car which is a certain size, she will never be comfortable in any of those things. That was the first thing I thought about this project, and I felt like it would be very interesting to work on. And you have so many different perspectives in it, too. Having to play it where Tina is being half-human, half-animal and she has all these odd things about her, like her sense of scent. I just found it really interesting to do this kind of animal-person in society, and I was really interested in this conflict between nature and civilization and to create this person who is so attached to nature, but she's totally unaware of why. That’s what I thought was interesting.

How much did the makeup help you disappear into this character? The effects work in this is really great, too.

Eva Melander: It took four hours to put it on every day before shooting, and it was a big challenge to sit for four hours and let the makeup artists do their work. But, when I finally got the pieces on and my teeth in place, before we started shooting, I wanted to get closer to the character and see just exactly what does it mean to have this very unusual and, for many people, ugly look? So, I went outside with Ali in the street and there was a bunch of teenagers hopping off the bus and I was walking through the sea of teenagers and immediately got a good experience, but really a bad experience, for how people will treat you when you look different, even if they are trying to be polite.

For me, it was a huge challenge to play through a couple layers of silicon and gelatin. So yes, it did help me, but also it was technically a big challenge to get through all the feelings and expressions through the makeup.

Ali, can you talk about finding the balance between the fantastical elements and the more dramatically-driven thematic elements of this film and making sure they work in service with each other so that you're not compromising one aspect of this story for the other?

Ali Abbasi: Absolutely. That’s a good question and this was really the question that we had been working on for the whole duration of development of the movie. Basically, we had the same question when we developed the movie, when we developed the script, and while we were shooting, while we developed the prosthetics, during the editing, etc. Because the way the whole thing is set up and the way I decided to see it is that this is not like a fantasy by the way of Harry Potter. It would lose its edge and it doesn’t fell relevant anymore, either.

So, there was this constant negotiation where we had to constantly make choices about a lot of things. Eva has to wear this prosthetic because she looks different. But how different? What does it mean to be different? And what does it mean to be human or not human? What is the limit? And how far should we push the similarity and differences of the looks, and how ugly and strange she could look that she'd still be plausibly accepted into human society? As much as it's an intellectual thing, talking about it and discussing about it, it's also a movie crutch. That's what Eva was constantly doing, trying to balance her character, and that's what we did with all these conscious or unconscious choices we did during the editing process, too. Finding that balance was basically the whole process of making the movie for us.

You've been able to take this film essentially around the world to all these different festivals, and I know that Sweden has submitted it for the Foreign Language Oscars, too, and I think that is just incredible. How has this whole journey with Border been like for you?

Ali Abbasi: It’s crazy, right? My whole life I've been very skeptical of this idea that you can do something that is both critically acclaimed and people love it, too. I somehow always excluded that possibility of where it can actually happen that you have the best of both worlds. It's not to say that we're on the top of the world or anything just yet, but I am a little bit amazed that our movie can cater to regular people in Sweden, can raise interest with the critics here in the States, and it’s something that could potentially win an award.

I don't know what it is about this film, but if I knew, I'd put that thing in a box and save it and just have it with me all the time. But I know there's something we did right with this film. There’s no magic formula, so I don't really know what I'm going to do to make this scenario happen again.

What I do know is that Oscars or Cannes Festival or whatever it is, it's super nice, and I can't speak for other people, but I don't do movies for Oscars. I don't do movies for the Cannes Film Festival, either, but I do appreciate these experiences very much. And if for some reason the Academy does select us to compete and be nominated, that means that another segment of the audience, which would probably miss this or wouldn't be interested, has their eyes open to what we’ve created. That is what you want as a filmmaker or an artist, to have people watch your stuff. So, I am grateful that we’ve been able to do that with this film.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.