Rich Mallery might be best known to a certain kind of audience for having written Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. But the man is also a director, and with Borderline, the man takes both writing and directing duties. Is this dramatic crime thriller as intentionally goofy as that cult sequel, or is it a serious affair that effectively hits the mark?
Charli (Kate Lý Johnston) is a 20-something with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Her roommate is Zee (Kylee Michael), and when not working, the best friends do drugs, have sex, and talk about getting more drugs. For Charli, drugs such as Oxycodone are easy to come by, as she swipes them from the hospital where she’s a nurse. She also lets Trevor (Quentin Boyer), a doctor there, use her in return for payment and drugs.
While Charli and Zee’s life may seem carefree, it is far from it. Charli’s explosive emotional swings are becoming more frequent, so she and Zee are almost constantly at each other’s throats. Or at least, that’s the reality her brain is feeding her, even if it isn’t true. On top of that, Charli’s pseudo-boyfriend Kyle (Irmon Hill), is pressuring her to label their situation, which she’s freaking out about. Will the new pills Charli’s doctor prescribe help, or is she doomed to live in an unreality haze her whole life?
“Charli’s explosive emotional swings are becoming more frequent…”
Borderline eventually morphs into a thriller, but it is a drama for 80 minutes of its 100-minute runtime. Mallery watches as the lead falls further into a drug-fueled downward spiral. Do the drugs help Charli make sense of the wrapped reality her brain makes? Or is she simply an addict because what else is there to do? Scenes at a bar hint it all going one way, but there’s enough ambiguity at the end for audiences to interpret it all however they see fit.
Unfortunately, said ending is a negative. The filmmaker concludes the story in too-tidy a fashion and fails to give a true answer as to the state of Charli. Knowing whether or not the main character is going to live happily ever after (or at least as much as possible) or if she’s off the deep end does matter, given the topics being explored. Not taking a stance leaves all watching unsatisfied despite all the good that precedes it.
Johnston delivers a terrific performance, nimbly going from extreme to extreme without missing a beat. Her out of nowhere yelling is so shocking that viewers are as off-kilter as the subjects of Charli’s ire. Michael makes the best friend role into something far more profound than how it’s written. The little ways she shows how she feels about her friend suggest a long unseen history that instantly makes these two a believable pair of besties. Hill is also quite good, though a few of the more minor parts are less well-acted.
Still, Borderline remains engaging because Mallery keeps the tension high until he does not (i.e., the final 2 or 3 minutes). The cast is game, baring it all, both literally and figuratively, as a few twists and turns keep audience members on their toes. If the conclusion were better, this thriller would be a must-see. As it stands, it is handsomely produced and well-acted, which is enough for a solid recommendation.
"…enough ambiguity at the end for audiences to interpret it all however they see fit."