Three young Americans travel to a border town just inside Mexico and get tangled up with a vicious cult of Satan worshipers. Sounds a lot like Eli Roth's Hostel or John Stockwell's (ugh) Turistas, doesn't it? That's what I thought at first, but once I realized that Zev Berman's Borderland was based on actual (and truly horrific) events from 1989, I had a whole new perspective on the project. (That fact that Mr. Berman was actually in Mexico went these horrible events went down, and was even questioned by the Mexican authorities, adds a whole new layer of creepiness to the flick.) Borderland is a grim, gruesome and impressively well-mounted piece of genre filmmaking, and one that's a whole lot more unsettling when you realize it was based on an actual massacre.
Rider Strong, Jake Muxworthy and Brian Presley play a trio of recent high school grads who decide to drive down south for a night of drunkenness and debauchery, but when one of the crew gets kidnapped by a gang of Satan-lovin' drug runners, things go from mildly uncomfortable to downright terrifying. As the two other guys look around, question the (predictably unhelpful) authorities, and run up against some local villains, a former cop (now disgraced, of course) does all he can to shed some light on the subject. Of course nobody believes the burnout's raving stories about homicidal "satanicos" -- or they know about the criminals but are simply too terrified to help out.
Shot on location in an effectively stark and arid border town in Mexico, Borderland certainly captures the "feel" that Berman was going for. This is not a polished or glitzed-up piece of survival horror, but a dark and frequently powerful thriller that seems fairly conventional in some respects -- but then throws you a few curve balls and surprises before capping it all off with an roughly pulse-doubling finale. The performances are a whole lot stronger than what's normally found in flicks of this ilk. Presley, Strong and Muxworthy make for an entirely believable trio, and they're given just enough character development to let us care about what happens down the road. Toss in a great turn by Damian Alcazar as the worn-out cop, a disconcertingly vicious performance by Sean Astin and the stunningly beautiful face of Martha Higareda, and you've got a surprisingly excellent cast anchoring this creepy ship.
The horror fans will most likely dig Borderland, and it'll probably send a few viewers home itching to "wiki" the actual truth of the story. So while the flick offers a fairly familiar tale, it does so in admirably gritty fashion. Berman balances the weight of the actual events with the desire to mount a simply effective horror story, and I think he pulls it off quite well. Boiled down to the basics: If you liked Hostel, I suspect you'll dig this one -- and if you actually paid money to see Turistas, then I definitely think you'll be a lot more satisfied with Borderland.