Satan Met a Lady: “Borgman”


“BORGMAN” IS A FILM living in a sort of cinematic purgatory, sprawled out — legs on the coffee table — between two extremes. Because this is the same comfortable resting spot for the film’s nominal protagonists, one assumes this was the aim of director Alex van Warmerdam.

Without fitting squarely into any category, “Borgman” settles on a disquieting pastiche of modern genre filmmaking, blending fairly seamlessly supernatural horror and home invasion thriller into a darkly comic critique on the bourgeoisie. It’s a genre picture without a genre.

That is to say, it’s an allegory, and van Warmerdam is to be applauded for making his point rather artfully. His movie’s flaw is that its characters are drawn from such distance, and with such broad distaste, that “Borgman” is neither (particularly) funny nor (particularly) frightening.

To be fair, though, this might be calculated; were a viewer to invest in the family whose home is somehow commandeered by a klatch of demonic dullards, “Borgman” likely would be unbearable.

Camille Borgman seems to be in charge of a group of what, Gypsies? Homeless people? In any case, they’re slinking through the Dutch suburbs and eking out an occasionally comfortable existence. But in a beguiling opening, they’re living underground. The imagery is not subtle — Borgman later sits atop a victim ala Fuseli’s “Nightmare” — but in case you didn’t get it, they also are being hunted by a rifle-wielding priest.

On the run and searching for his next project, Borgman insinuates himself into a family we gradually learn is remarkably unlikable. The husband is your classic A-type prick, and his wife is a white wine artist with a studio near the garage and little interest in her three children. After Borgman seduces the wife, first through pity, later through shame, he and his pals find them all easy prey.

Explaining more would be unfair; “Borgman” is a good movie, and seeing it with fresh eyes — do not watch any trailers — is a treat, even if the viewer sometimes feels like cutting to the chase before van Warmerdam does (he and his wife, by the way, are onscreen). But there are smart touches: with a little landscaping, for instance, the family’s concrete home turns quite easily from modern chic to WWII bunker; and it’s genuinely funny when the husband explains to his children that suddenly mean-spirited and unemployed Mommy is “overworked.”

If “Borgman” seems to shamble out of sight without a pulse, it does so with purpose. There are a lot of movies that purport to examine the banality of evil, but this might be the first to actually portray Satan as a cipher.