Gräns [Border] (2018)

Director: Ali Abbasi
Writer: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist
Based on: Lindqvist‘s short story
Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 29.9.2018

Tina (Eva Melander) works for customs at the airport, a singular skill making her incredibly suited for the job: she can smell when somebody is trying to hide something. But when Vore (Eero Milonoff) passes through, his smell confuses her a lot. She feels drawn to him in a way she really can’t explain and that makes her question her entire life, especially her life with her boyfriend Roland (Jörgen Thorsson). As Tina gets roped in to help with a police investigation, she also has to figure out what it is about Vore that has thrown her for a loop.

For a long time, Gräns was interesting and engaging, but when it starts peeling back the layers of the mystery, it completely falls apart, leaving us with a gender(ed) mess that had me rolling my eyes.

The film poster showing two people swimming in a lake.


So, the big reveal of Gräns is that Vore and Tina are both trolls. Which I fought was generally a nice idea – trolls living among us, barely distinguishable from humans and in Tina’s case not even aware that they aren’t human. It’s also the reason for the story to delve into matters of gender and sex(ual reproduction) and that’s where things start to really get messed up. I mean, the idea that troll genders would work differently is more than fine – it shows that gender really isn’t something that is universal. But the way it is handled here is … not good.

First, it’s a revelation in the film that Vore, despite being male, is the one with a vagina, and Tina has a penis. She doesn’t know that she has a penis because apparently, trolls don’t have wet dreams or masturbate and the penis only appears when things get hot and heavy with Vore. And first of all, it is not that outlandish that people read as male have a vagina and people read as female have a penis. That’s also the case with humans, so that doesn’t really make trolls all that special. And secondly, it just reinforces the gender binary and ties it more tightly to biology than people already think it is [Spoiler: it’s actually not tied to it]: trolls are strange! But in the end, there’s male and female and we can tell from the body parts – the strangeness just comes from the fact that it’s the other way round with them.

A woman (Eva Melander) lying on a bed reading, while a man (Eero Milonoff) is staring through her window into the room.

Plus, I don’t actually understand why they would have two different players in reproduction when it’s obvious that there don’t actually need to be two people present for it? Tina and Vore only have sex AFTER Vore gives birth and Vore only talks very vaguely about other trolls, as if he hadn’t actually met any. So we’re probably talking asexual reproduction for trolls which begs the question of why there would be two different sexes to begin with.

But even leaving aside questions of biology, it really isn’t a good look for any story to have a female protagonist who believes she is broken because she can’t have (human) sex or children and then resolving that problem by a) sorting her reproductive parts back into a clear binary system and b) giving her a child.

In short, it’s a film that takes on gender and I’m pretty sure it thinks it’s subverting norms. But instead it manages to be as heteronormative as things get. At least it hase some cute foxes, too.

A man (Eero Milonoff) having his back searched by a custom agent (Eva Melander) at the airport.

Summarizing: disappointing.

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