Jan Bijvoet as Borgman (Drafthouse Films)

Jan Bijvoet as Borgman (Drafthouse Films)

Written and Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
Produced by Marc van Warmerdam
Released by Drafthouse Films
Dutch with English subtitles
Netherlands/Denmark. 113 min. Not rated
With Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, and Sara Hjort Ditlevsen

Borgman is a sleek, sly, stylish little horror film that is ultimately unsatisfying. It starts intriguingly as we watch three men, one a priest, tramp through the forest with guns and spears. One man spears the ground and finds a hollow spot. Residing in that hollow spot in a subterranean shelter is Borgman, a straggly, unkempt man. He beats a hasty retreat while warning two friends, who also sleep underground in the woods.

So far, so good. Eventually, Borgman exits the woods unscathed and walks up to an ultra-modern suburban home straight out of Architectural Digest and knocks on the door. When a man answers, he asks for a bath. The man refuses. Borgman pretends he knows the man’s wife, claiming she was once his nurse. The man gets upset and beats the daylights out of him. The wife (Hadewych Minis) takes pity on Borgman and, unbeknownst to her husband (Jeroen Perceval), nurses him back to health and gives him a place to sleep.

From there on in it is a not-so-typical home invasion film for Borgman seems to be some sort of supernatural being. He and his cohorts insinuate themselves into the family’s life and tear it asunder.  First, he manipulates the wife’s dreams and tells creepy bedtime stories to the couple’s fascinated children. The husband unknowingly hires him out as a gardener (don’t ask what happened to the gardener) and his installation as master of the realm is complete. The wife begs for his touch, and Borgman simply replies, “Not yet,” while one daughter carries out dastardly deeds for him. But as an audience member, we don’t care one wit because his target is so ripe for comeuppance.

The husband is a corporate, manipulative, racist prick. The wife is self-involved and shallow. The kids are just picture perfect. There is little depth. There are some dryly funny moments and also some unsettling macabre bits, but in the long run, the suffering of family does not affect us, so whatever moral or viewpoint the film is trying to convey is lost, making the characters straw men and easy targets.

Which is a shame because Borgman (as portrayed by Jan Bijvoet) is a delicious demon. He is consistently low-key and respectful. He never commits violence but leaves it to his minions. He shoots a meaningful glance to another character, who goes off and commits the bad stuff. He is quite charming, and there’s an amusing deadpan quality to his henchmen. They seemed to have walked in from a Jim Jarmusch film.

All in all, the film’s clever and intermittently interesting, but it lacks heart. And anyone who loves horror knows that a horror film needs heart, even if it happens to be a cold one.