Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: Antonio Campos and Sean Durkin both have new movies coming out, so we’re looking back on other projects released by their production company, Borderline Films.
Borderline Films, the production company founded by Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, and Josh Mond, has released only a handful of features over the last decade and change. (By our count, they’ve got nine to their name, including the two produced for side label Borderline Presents.) Yet there’s a distinct sensibility that unifies the company’s slate—a disquieting vibe more than anything else. If these films, all perched to some degree on the edge of dread, have any one thing in common, it’s their interest in expressing the frazzled headspaces of their characters, of making anxious internal worlds external. That’s true of the other films in our Watch This series, and it’s true, in its own way, of this early one—probably the most elemental and the least story-driven project the brain trust of Campos, Durkin, and Mond has ever spearheaded. It’s also one of the few not written or directed by one of those three.
The filmmaker, Alistair Banks Griffin, sets Two Gates Of Sleep in the remote backwoods of the American South, somewhere near where Louisiana touches Mississippi. Here, two brothers, Louis (David Call) and Jack (Brady Corbet, who would pop up in future Borderline projects), live in total isolation from the rest of the world, in a rustic shack where they care for their mother (Karen Young), who’s dying of some unspecified ailment. They’re not the talkative type, these stoic two. You can count on one hand the number of times either speaks over the film’s predominately wordless hour and 18 minutes. Though they smoke and watch TV, the brothers usually seem more animal than man, and certainly in tune with the natural world where they live, hunt, and forage.
The film is half over before its plot, if it can even be called that, emerges from the thicket of daily routine like a deer cautiously poking its head into a clearing. The mother dies, unceremoniously and possibly by her own hand, bringing the nearest authorities to claim her body. Two Gates Of Sleep turns out, from here, to be a slender variation on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, following the two brothers as they lug a heavy coffin through the foliage, determined to bury their mom somewhere deep in the woods as per her implied last wishes and their own desire not to see her handled and embalmed by strangers. This wilderness pilgrimage is an arduous one, and Griffin emphasizes its physical and emotional confluence; it’s as if the boys channel all of their heartache into the hard task in front of them, sweating our their grief. And just as their mother leaves them, Mother Nature seems to forsake them; her conditions become impediments, as when the pair’s plan to float the coffin down the river hits troubled water when it begins to sink into the drink. (Corbet, especially, throws his back into this simulation of mourning-through-labor.)
Two Gates Of Sleep is better felt than overthought. More than anything the Borderline crew has made since, it’s pure sensory experience, privileging the sights and sounds of the forest over anything else. Thankfully, Griffin, who finally finished another movie last year (the Naomi Watts psychological thriller The Wolf House), has a crack team of craftsmen at his disposal, from cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes to the sound designers creating an enveloping cone of woodland quiet and cacophony around the bereaved brothers. In the context of the company that produced it, the film looks like a dry run, establishing the Borderline preoccupation with death, isolation, family, and how damn loud it can be inside your own head. But the film has an intoxicating rhythm and texture all its own; call it the feel of the outskirts.