Tuesday, February 9, 2016

In short: The Borrower (1991)

Some alien insect species (so Lovecraft was right) banishes one of their greatest serial killers to earth “devolving” him into a human. Here, the charming guy goes right on with the killing. The problems of the devolution process do make his life rather difficult, though, so he not only murders people but also steals their heads and wears them as his own. As you do.

Diane Pierce (Raw Dawn Chong), a cop slowly despairing at the world (or the state of New York), kinda-sorta gets on the killer’s trail, but saying she actually investigates the case or is hunting the alien would say too much. She’s a bit distracted by hunting human rapist and serial killer Scully (Neil Giuntoli), though here too, the film doesn’t show her doing much actual investigating. Of course, Scully’s head is going to end up on the alien in the end, but as with everything else, The Borrower gets to that point slowly, and in the least dramatic way possible.

I’m not surprised that John McNaughton chose to make something completely different in tone and style as his next film after his masterpiece Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it’s difficult not to be disappointed by the mediocrity of this horror/SF/comedy/cop movie hybrid thing. It’s not as if there weren’t any cheesy, entertainingly gory or just plain weird scenes in the film, or that it didn’t include some poignant scenes of urban decay. These are all there and accounted for, but there’s no visible effort at all put into actually turning the random assemblage of scenes into a narrative, or much of a movie.

In fact, the script seems to go out of its way to half-arse even the most obvious dramatic beats, generally starting off with something nice, cool, or interesting and then doing fuck all with it. It is, for example, pretty wonderful to find an early 90s genre movie from the US having a female protagonist, an African American one to boot, and even better, one that doesn’t have to prove her worth to anyone. It’s much less wonderful to then find this purported protagonist of the film never actually doing much of anything apart from wandering around looking miffed and a bit bored – and who can blame her, with her only actual confrontation with the alien taking up all of five minutes and leading up to one of the laziest endings one could imagine.

This isn’t an exception in The Borrower either, for if ever there was a script to call lazy, this one’s it. So how, just to make another example, do you get the alien and the human killer together for the head-exchange? Why, you just put them in the same morgue, of course, because screw drama, screw thematic resonance, who wants to write this damn movie anyway! If I sound offended by the quality of The Borrower’s writing, that’s because I am. There’s absolutely no need for it to be quite this lacking, and in result for the film as a whole to be quite this half-arsed. This isn’t shot in Mom’s backyard, after all, or made by people who don’t know how to point a camera in the right direction, and still it very much feels like it were.

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