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Indie Spotlight: 'Borgman,' 'The Case Against 8,' 'The Sacrament'

Among new indie releases in NYC this weekend are the whatzit curio "Borgman," the doc "The Case Against 8" and the horror film "The Sacrament."

That the anti-hero of "Borgman" (Jan Bijvoet) lives underground is one of the first of many weird things about the film. Credit: Drafthouse Films That the anti-hero of "Borgman" (Jan Bijvoet) lives underground is one of the first of many weird things about the film.
Credit: Drafthouse Films

‘Borgman’
3 (out of 5) Globes

An unsolvable fit of relentless loopiness, this Danish whatzit opens with our titular anti-hero — a hirsute man of mystery (Jan Bijvoet) — chased out of his underground bunker by a pair of angry rednecks and a priest wielding a shotgun. We’ll never find out the why of any of this, or much else that follows, which has Borgman infiltrating a suburban family and undoing their pampered lifestyle. There’s a steady procession of deadpan insanities, from Borgman (and soon his minions) habit of murdering people, burying their heads in concrete and tossing them into a lake to something involving mind control.

But the overall gist is not only easy to get but downright cliched, even tired. This is yet another takedown of the cloistered rich, who are either too shallow to love Borgman (the husband) or so shallow that they pathetically throw themselves at him (the wife). This has been nakedly designed to amass a cult audience and play to burners at midnight, and it is, admittedly, entertaining and frequently inspired. That it never adds up to anything is a liability — it plays like “Dogtooth” without the drive — and the secret to its unique success. After all, it never lets up.

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"The Case Against 8" details the mission to knock down Proposition 8. Credit: HBO "The Case Against 8" details the mission to knock down Proposition 8.
Credit: HBO

‘The Case Against 8’
3 (out of 5) Globes

A documentary about the successful pushback against same-sex marriage-targeting Proposition 8 could easily be a mere victory lap. “The Case Against 8” is that, but it’s something more, especially because the story is even more interesting than it may seem. First and foremost is the bizarre twist that found one Ted Olson — a longtime conservative lawyer, friends of Reagan and the Bushes, who had been instrumental in snuffing the Florida recount of 2000 — eagerly joined the team to fight against many of his old pals. Calling it the greatest cause he had ever joined, he ruffles feathers on both sides, including those who should be for him but are understandably reluctant to let an adversary break down their guard.

At its best “The Case Against 8” is thrilling fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, sketching a portrait of laborious process and watching as good people struggle and fight to do the right thing. At its merely passable, it shuffles through the same moving but familiar tales of woe, which are included less out of passion than because a documentary about the fight against Prop 8 needs some sad stories told to the camera against sad music. Then again, some of these tales are pretty fascinating: Of the two couples for whom the suit was filed, one boasts a woman who had been married to a man, making Olson and team fear she might be used by the other side as “proof” that sexuality is a choice. This is best when it’s about the nitty gritty, not when it’s going for the tear ducts.

A.J. Bowen plays a Vice journo who winds up in a Jonestown-esque commune in "The Sacrament." Credit: Magnolia Pictures A.J. Bowen plays a Vice journo who winds up in a Jonestown-esque commune in "The Sacrament."
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘The Sacrament’
2 (out of 5) Globes

It’s not strictly speaking tasteful to do a horror number clearly inspired by the Jonestown Massacre, but the latest from Ti West — the horror stylist of “House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers” — isn’t mere snuff. A Vice crew heads down to an unnamed South American country (read: Guyana) to visit a religious commune in thrall to a charismatic leader who talks a lot like Jim Jones. Their timing is great, as the Kool-Aid (although it was actually Flavor Aid) is about to get busted out.

Though the apocalypse, when it comes, is gory, it isn’t pure grindhouse. It’s harrowing and maddening; if anything, it’s not Boschian enough. But if it’s not trying to titillate, it’s also not doing much else. Despite the air of hipster journalism — if Vice is being satirized, they don’t appear to be in on the joke — there’s little deep delving into the cult, who started off as a very well-intentioned haven that preached social justice before devolving into chaos.

West is one of the most unlikely of horror directors — the one who prefers the stuff before the goods kick in to the goods themselves. But his skills are underutilized and the found footage aspect is as sloppy as in a “Paranormal Activity” number. It’s an empty, pointless exercise — an attempt to prove the filmmakers aren’t monsters themselves by not exploiting real-life tragedy, although they could have done that by choosing another project entirely.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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