Borgman (2013)

8.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Unnerving feeling, great acting and visuals

Disconnect could throw some viewers, some concept of folklore could help non-native viewers

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Borgman

Studio:  Cinéart

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama/Horror

Release Date(s):  May 19, 2013 (Cannes Film Festival)/August 29, 2013 (Netherlands)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


Well, I’m not letting weird homeless men take bathes at my home anymore!

Marina (Hadewych Minis) and Richard (Jeroen Perceval) seem to live an ideal life with their three children.  When a homeless man (Jan Bijvoet) comes to their door asking for a bath, things start to change.  Richard beats the man for insinuating he knows Marina, and Marina secretly begins to nurse him back to health.  Things begin to change between Marina and Richard, and the homeless man Camiel Borgman secretly begins to insert himself in their lives.  When Marina asks Borgman to return to the home as a replacement gardener, Borgman and his lot have plans for the family.


Don’t mess with Borgman and his kin…

Directed by Alex van Warmerdam, Borgman is a dramatic horror fantasy (though it struggles to be labeled).  The movie was mostly well received by critics and submitted for Oscar nomination by the Dutch for the Oscar (which it didn’t receive).

I saw Borgman while looking through some magazines and just like the imagery I saw.  When it became available, I sought it out, but then found myself disenchanted while watching the start of the film and it took me a bit to get back to it.  The movie really doesn’t have a genre, but it also has many genres…but a little background in German/European folklore before the movie begins would also really help.


This helps explain what is going on in the movie…

The story is very surreal and there might be a bit of cultural translation lost here.  There is a lot of speculation to what this movie is about.  Many point to the Borgman character and his allies as being alps or a krampus.  I had heard of the krampus but I had to look into the alp.  A krampus is a pagan demon but generally tied to children and Christmas (see Rare Exports for this).  An alp is much like a German nightmare creature who can influence people through dreams…much like Borgman’s character who perches on Mariana in her sleep like an incubus (plus they can take animal form like the dogs).  The alp and krampus aren’t common in American folklore so if you have no background in this story, the movie can seem even more unnatural.


Why little blonde children shouldn’t be trusted

Despite this alp idea, the movie still has this weird disconnect to it.  Everyone already talks and interacts with bizarre behavior that isn’t necessarily natural.  Parts of the story like the poisoned gardener who is writhing in pain refusing to go the hospital don’t make much sense in the alp storyline because Borgman hasn’t had contact to influence him.  You also have the weird coincidences like the boyfriend of the nanny being the son of Richard’s boss.  Plus, you have Borgman’s lackeys that work like the gypsy stereotype and whisk away children.  It is just an odd, surreal experience that doesn’t end with much resolution.

The movie however cannot be faulted on acting.  Both Jan Bijvoet and Hadewych Minis are stellar in their roles.  Bijvoet is able to make you feel a bit sorry for him near the beginning of the film but slowly reveals himself as a devil with ulterior motives.  Minis likewise has to act with the surreal plot and storyline that doesn’t give you much direction as to the character’s arc.


…and now it has turned into The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The visuals for the movie are also great.  There is a very surreal feel to the movie and scenes like the dumping of bodies in the lake and the girl smashing the head of the man attacked by Borgman’s men create a surreal environment that has you questioning reality.  This culminates in the bizarre play which everyone sits and watches and seems to enjoy.  Then you have some uncomfortable dancing over a dead body which reminds me a lot of David Lynch’s stuff.

In fact, Borgman reminds me a lot of Twin Peaks, good and bad.  I loved Twin Peaks, but it wasn’t always the most satisfying show to watch.  The series often left you in the lurch on what was going on and that is how I kind of feel about Borgman.  It is fun and unnerving to watch, but I can’t sit there and say how much I loved the story.  The basic concept is good:  once you let in the devil, you can’t get rid of him…of course it also has a weird sub-message about not ever helping anyone or they end up killing you.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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