Borderline Week

The Daily — Sep 17, 2020
Robert Pattinson in Antonio Campos’s The Devil All the Time (2020)

In 2003, Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, and Josh Mond met at NYU, hit it off and formed a production company, Borderline Films, whose short films and features have been picking up awards at Cannes, Sundance, and beyond ever since. This week, as Campos’s The Devil All the Time begins streaming on Netflix and Durkin’s The Nest heads to theaters, contributors to the A.V. Club have been revisiting some of Borderline’s most memorable movies.

While all three filmmakers take on rotating roles on each other’s projects, Campos is the one with the longest list of directorial credits. He was the first to win a prize in Cannes (for his 2005 short, Buy It Now, about a teenage girl selling her virginity on eBay) and the first to direct a feature. Afterschool (2008) opens with Robert (Ezra Miller, fourteen at the time) watching viral videos, and as Mike D’Angelo reminds us, YouTube had launched just a little over years before. For D’Angelo, the “greatness” of Afterschool “lies primarily in the forthright way that it tackles the twenty-first century’s most important subject: mediation. It was the first movie that seemed to register just how drastically certain aspects of American society had changed within the span of a few years, constructing a portrait of Generation YouTube (one appropriately set in high school, but encompassing all ages) that’s somehow both compassionate and merciless—which is to say, utterly true.”

When Jada Yuan profiled the Borderline guys for New York in 2011, she spoke with Miller as well. “Sean is a huge-hearted, sharp-brained leprechaun,” he told her. “Antonio is a fire-breathing, ax-wielding dwarf; Josh is the devilishly goateed gangster. They form, like, this complementary trinity where all three of them can at any time step into the necessary shoes of the hard-ass producer; the kind, emotional coach to whoever is having a crisis; the very severe, disconnected-from-reality, connected-to-the-artwork director. Borderline is almost like one man that is three. Biblical shit.”

The occasion for Yuan’s profile was the theatrical release of Martha Marcy May Marlene, which not only scored Durkin a directing award at Sundance but also Borderline’s first big distribution deal (Fox Searchlight had picked it up at the festival for around $1.6 million). Martha features Elizabeth Olsen in her first lead role as well as Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Borderline regular Brady Corbet, and John Hawkes, whose performance as the leader of a cult Martha escapes from, “like the film as a whole, is as striking for what it avoids as for what it contains,” writes Laura Adamczyk.

In 2015, Mond directed his first and so far only feature, James White, with Christopher Abbott as “the trust fund kid from hell,” as Randall Colburn puts it, and Cynthia Nixon as James’s mother. She’s slowly dying of cancer and James acts on any excuse he can find to avoid caring for her. “You won’t like James White,” writes Colburn. “You won’t want to comfort him or hang out with him. You will, however, be yanked into his orbit, rocky though it may be.” The film won audience awards in Sundance and at the AFI Fest.

Since James White and before this year, only Campos has directed another feature, Christine, in 2016. Now he’s back with a ferocious cast—Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, and Sebastian Stan—in an adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 novel The Devil All The Time that, to Noel Murray at the A.V. Club, “feels equally inspired by seamy Jim Thompson novels and florid Southern gothic literature.” It’s a knotty series of interconnected family tragedies taking place in and around Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. “You might say that sin is the movie’s true star,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. “A cop serves his greed, a preacher indulges his lust, and a young man unleashes his wrath. I’m not sure how to classify the gun-toting creep with the cuckold fetish, except to note that he is less an outlier than a standard bearer, the nastiest distillation of this movie’s relentlessly nasty worldview.”

For Chuck Bowen at Slant, The Devil All the Time is “redundant misery porn steeped in Southern-fried clichés,” and more than a few critics would agree with the New York TimesManohla Dargis when she writes that, while Campos “has always been a capable craftsman,” here, he simply “shows no interest in the inner lives of his characters.” But the Observer’s Mark Kermode argues the case for the defense: “Having substantially raised his game between 2012’s Simon Killer and 2016’s Christine, Campos takes another significant step up with this sprawling, sinewy epic.”

When Durkin’s The Nest premiered at Sundance in January, Noel Murray sent out a tweet calling it “a domestic melodrama shaped as a spook-show. Not sure it coalesces.” Ben Kenigsberg isn’t, either. “In contrast to the dreamlike subjectivity of Martha Marcy, The Nest is a coldly observational study of a Reagan-Thatcher-era family divided in ambitions, nationality and—with respect of the children—parentage,” he writes in the New York Times. “In technique, The Nest is severe but unimpeachable,” and if Durkin’s “writing doesn’t always match his formal flair, The Nest has a bracing economy, cramming a lot into tight quarters.”

Jude Law plays Rory, a British financier who convinces his American wife (Carrie Coon) and kids (Oona Roche and Charlie Shotwell) that the next step up is a move to a hulking fifteenth-century mansion in the south of England, where he’s landed a job that may not be as lucrative as he lets on. “Even if you’re not entirely sold by the idea of an Antonioni-esque alienation drama shot as if it were I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the A.V. Club, “The Nest is well worth seeing just for its two central performances. Six years after her galvanizing supporting turn in Gone Girl, Coon finally gets a big-screen lead role worthy of her brittle genius.” And for the Austin Chronicle’s Richard Whittaker, Rory “feels like the role that Jude Law was always meant to play.” Law “catches every drop of his sense of alienation, his pretense and pretension, his dedication to the idea that one more big deal will be all that it takes.”

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